What the experts say

Some comments on the future of the Barbican from three architectural historians who spoke at The Barbican at 50: What began, what is, what if… a workshop run by the Barbican Association to celebrate the Barbican Estate’s 50th anniversary held at the Barbican Centre on 8 June 2019.

Photography Tim Hirst, Director Hannah Robinson, Palindromicals. © Barbican Association

Barnabas Calder, Lecturer in Architectural History, University of Liverpool

I have a radical proposal for the Barbican:

The Barbican’s future should involve not changing very much.

By and large areas change quite a lot, but if you look at special types of buildings like Oxford and Cambridge colleges, they don’t change – in large parts of them where the architecture is at its most remarkable and historically important and beautiful, and the result is that academics and students at those colleges have to go to a small bathtub three floors away from their room through a freezing cold staircase – and they just do it. And the bursar at Trinity College Cambridge might find it appetising to build something under the Trinity College Library by Sir Christopher Wren – because there is a gap there – but it would be a crazy thing to do and they wouldn’t dream of proposing it. Because not all voids in buildings are there to be built into. And here too, this is an architecture of that kind of calibre – and it must be looked after.

It is more internationally important and influential than almost anything earlier in British architecture - and more internationally loved – and we have to look after it as it is.

It is more internationally important and influential than almost anything earlier in British architecture—and more internationally loved

Otto Saumarez-Smith, Assistant Professor in Architectural History, University of Warwick

As concerned with the preservation of this building, I don’t think it should be any different to how we treat important buildings of any other period. I certainly think some of the plans at the moment for example the expansion of the City of London Girls’ School would absolutely not be countenanced if this was a building of the 18th or 19th century of this importance.

Tom Dyckhoff, Historian of Architecture and Cities, journalist and broadcaster

I think the priorities for the future of the Barbican are a combination of two conflicting things. One is to preserve, keep it as it is, architecturally – but secondly I think it needs somebody almost at a strategic level to think about the entire complex and how you might reinterpret it and rethink it for the next 50 years – it may go on for another 150 years. 

We are living in a time at the moment of incredible flux and change – so it will take a very brave pair of hands to take on a complex set of buildings like Barbican - but I think it needs somebody to look at it strategically – how it sits within the future of London as a whole but also respecting those utopian, rather amazing, aims from its birth in the 1950s and 1960s as well. You have to respect that part of its heritage but also rethink it in its entirety.