Barbican

Published 29 October 2014

The Barbican complex's large pond

I’ve worked within seconds of the Barbican for about two and a half years, but realised recently I’d never really explored it.

For those that don’t know, Barbican’s a massive residential estate built in the 1960s and 1970s, and it’s built mostly out of concrete. There’s three towers, thirteen massive terrace blocks, two mews and a few other bits. Mixed in with that is the large arts and cultural complex that is the Barbican Centre, the Museum of London, an all girls school and the Guidhall School of Music and Drama. There was even once a YMCA. And there’s houses. This was a huge social housing estate, which – unlike many similar attempts to house thousands of people on one site – actually seems to work.

But most of all, there’s walkways. Lots of walkways. So many walkways. Paths up in the sky, far away from the road below. And one lunchtime recently I finally bit the bullet and took a walk.

There was a difficult decision to think through and I needed to clear my head, so a tour of the Barbican’s walkways seemed like perfect place to do it.

Goodness knows how many walkways there are, or how long they are. Walking round Barbican’s like walking through a small town; just one that happens to be on the edge of the City of London and which doesn’t have any roads.

I walked for some time round the twisted maze. Past administration buildings, past people’s front doors. I walked alongside the Barbican’s conservatory – a massive greenhouse garden – and then next to a tiny estate agents (a mere £1.75m for a three bedroom flat by the way) with space for a small coffee table and three chairs. There was a launderette, some fountains and even a massive lake with ducks in it.

Barbican Centre, seen from one of the many walkways

Swiftly I realised I had little idea where I was. Every now and then I’d come to the edge of the estate and look out on the City of London’s glass tower blocks; people sat at their desks, or perhaps in the office canteen. And then I’d head back into the depths of the estate. At one point I even seamlessly glided inside, finding myself next to the Barbican Centre’s ticket desk and a library.

I wandered and wandered, and thought and thought. That’s what I like about walking, whether it be up a hill or in the middle of the biggest city in the country. In some respects Barbican offers the best elements of being out in the countryside. You escape the cars, the bustle is gone. It’s just you and a path. A space to think; to decide.

As it turned out, the decision turned out to be not that difficult to make at all. It brought forth some risk, but what’s life without risk? More importantly, making it – and confirming it – calmed my mind. And as it did, I stared out at the ducks swimming around in their lake and made a second decision.

It was time to get some food.

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