In an effort to revitalize a neighborhood that was wrecked by bombardment during World War II, architecture firm Chamberlin, Powell & Bon designed the Barbican Estate in London during the 1960s and 70s. With its unapologetic use of concrete and its multitude of programs (sixteen residential buildings, a cultural centre, two schools, and a public library) the sprawling complex quickly became a symbol of post-war Brutalist architecture in the capital and beyond. Today, the Barbican Estate and its labyrinthine inner spaces still succeed in drawing both residents and visitors of London towards its focal point, a stunning urban lake framed on all sides by massive concrete pilotis.
A view of Beech Gardens from an apartment in Bunyan Court. Courtesy of The Modern House.
The ubiquitous grey surfaces of the estate and the cold logic of its repetitive design has made the Barbican Estate, as most Brutalist structures go, beloved to some and reviled by others. But its success, measured in its generation of an urban microcosm and a renewed sense of community for a locale that suffered the devastation of war, is hard to deny. That the apartments in the Barbican Estate are now so highly coveted only confirms its enduring influence.
Bird Chairs and a Diamond Chair by Harry Bertoia fill the living room of an apartment in Bunyan Court. Courtesy of The Modern House.
“We’ve sold hundreds of flats across London, but the Barbican Estate really is the ultimate,” noted Matt Gibberd, founding director of The Modern House, which has managed the sale of several units in the Barbican's residential towers. “It’s unrivalled for the completeness of the design integrity, and its holistic architectural approach. Every detail is considered and refined.”
In Bunyan Court, one of thirteen terrace blocks in the estate, one apartment provides simple proof of this design integrity. Designated an “M2B” flat, one of many different flat types specifically defined by the architects, the one-bedroom dwelling is spread out over two levels, its layout grounded in an open plan living environment and access to natural light.
As such, the house is devoid of corridors and the living room connects to an outdoor balcony. “In most of the flat plans we have sought a compromise by providing at least a living room which is reasonably large in its overall dimensions,” the architects wrote in 1959, “while the other rooms are fairly modest in size.”
A pair of Laccio Tables by Marcel Breuer along the wall of a Bunyan Court apartment. Courtesy of The Modern House.
But in spite of the modest proportions of the apartment, its interior exhibits a refined sense of space and design. Lounge chairs designed by American sculptor Harry Bertoia add an additional layer of modernism to the dwelling, with two Bird Chairs and a Diamond Chair positioned to take advantage of the view. Designed by Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer in 1925, a Laccio Coffee Table and Side Table similarly express solutions of exquisitely configured material and form.
The living room balcony looks onto the Barbican Estate's Beech Gardens, one of its many landscaped spaces, while in the distance, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Renzo Piano’s Shard skyscraper add their distinctive silhouettes to the skyline. And while the interior surfaces of the Bunyan Court apartment are smooth and white, they remain in counterpoint to the the hard, worn exterior of the site. Clad in generous amounts of exposed concrete, the outer walls have been purposefully pick-hammered to appear raw and rusticated—a solemn monument to urban living.