In London for the opening of the Power and Architecture season at Calvert 22, we grant ourselves the time to pay tribute to one of the most iconic brutalist realisations of last century. The Barbican is the noblest example of the periphery at the center typology. In the very heart of the City of London, a residential unit hosting more than 4000 inhabitants, almost the totality of the residents of this district. Immersed in a glossy explosion of metal- glass skyscrapers and office containers interrupted by forests of cranes and construction sites, this gigantic concrete village represents a quiet heterotopia lost into the frenzied life of the most valuable business district of the planet.
Walking around the complex guided by the visual prominence of the three towers, it is initially difficult to find the way in, showing the place sort of a reluctancy to open to the city. But such an elusive character reinforces also the quality of the inner spaces disclosing to the visitor, enhancing the progressive discovery of terraces and passages, gardens and fountains. The soundscape of the congested financial center suddenly turns into water babbling and bird chirping, the visual pollution and commercial exhibitionism of the surrounding branded landscape turns into a sober homogeneity of grey matter and trimmed greenery conjugated in a neat variety of shapes and places.
The Barbican is an amazing remnant of a past future. A possible urban dream that remain unaccomplished, overcome by more trivial and pragmatic ideas of city. Its concept is the result of a public planning approach yet dismissed in the neoliberist orgy of exploitative finance-driven developments. It is nonetheless a rich bourgeois privileged citadel destined to highly educated elites, deeply different from the many coeve concentrations of poverty and disadvantage that modern new settlement have often created. If we compare this other modernism with the mediocre outcomes of most of the surviving brutalist peripheries from the Sixties and Seventies, its quality, from the overall spatial arrangement to the finest architectural detail, is astonishing. A demonstration that the failure of the modern city descends rather from the general conditions of social injustice that planner and architects reproduced into spatial arrangements than from implicit flaws of design.