Some 40 years after it first opened, the Barbican Centre – that’s the arts centre bit of the brutalist wonderland that is the Barbican Estate – is set to get a major £150m overhaul.
Why tinker with concrete perfection? And how?
Well, the first part of that is pretty simple. There are major plans afoot to make The City into a more general cultural destination than it is now (although these have run into some difficulties after a £288m concert hall was cancelled). As part of this, the Barbican board feels that there are elements of the Centre that have dated, particularly in terms of accessibility and environmental sustainability. So the plan is to address that and modernise what is undeniably one of London’s more intimidating buildings.
As for the ‘how’: dunno yet. Designers and architects have been invited to submit proposals for how they might update the Barbican, and its future rather depends on who wins. Although lovers of the hulking structure may worry it’ll lose its character, they shouldn’t be afeared: £150m is a drop in the ocean when it comes to architecture, and even if the budget were there to demolish the building and start again, it’s Grade II-listed, so there’s no way. You can perhaps look to the recent upgrades to the National Theatre – expansions to its public spaces and lots more eating and drinking options – for an example of the type of thing that might happen.
In any case, if you’ve ever been lost in or confused by the Barbican – and if you haven’t, may I suggest you haven’t been to the Barbican – then this should be a big step up without compromising its intrinsic Barbican-ness.