Perimeter blockSlab, point-accessSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-access, skip stopSlab, corridorSlab, double-loadedTower
Golden Lane/Barbican Estates
Chamberlin, Powell & Bon (Peter Chamberlin, Geoffry Powell, Christof Bon | London, England | 1952-1981
Image of Golden ...
Golden Lane, 16 -story slab, south facade

ProjectGolden Lane/Barbican Estates
ArchitectChamberlin, Powell & Bon (Peter Chamberlin, Geoffry Powell, Christof Bon
AddressGoswell Road/Aldersgate Street/ Golden Lane /London Wall
Building TypePerimeter block
Slab, double-loaded
Slab, gallery-access, skip stop
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellingsc. 2670
Date Built1952-1981
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1, 2, 3, & 4 BR flats, 2 & 3 BR maisonettes, townhouses
No. Floors4-42
Section Typeflats and maisonettes
Exterior Finish
concrete, brick, aluminum, metal windows, wood windows, steel
Construction TypeR-C frame
Ancillary Servicesshops, restaurants, community buildings, workshops, schools, concert hall, theater, museum, art gallery, outdoor recreational spaces, parking

In 1951, the City of London Corporation held a design competition for the building of a new community in the boundary area of central London, north of St. Paul’s, that had been heavily bombed in World War II. Geoffry Powell, a teacher at Kingston School of Architecture designed the winning entry in 1952 and along with two other teachers at Kingston, who has also submitted entries, Peter Chamberlin and Christof Bon, formed a partnership to execute the design. The Golden Lane competition received a lot of notoriety partly because of the emphasis on designing a big new residential project for about 1000 people, partly because this event marked the arrival of the planning ideas of Le Corbusier in England, and also because of the attention given to some of the other entries especially that of Peter and Allison Smithson. The photo montage of a cut-a-way axonometric of a high-rise slab superimposed on an aerial photo of the bombed-out remains of what was assumed to be London (actually it was Coventry) was the center piece of the Smithson submission for Golden Lane and came to assume almost legendary status as the icon of Team 10 ideas about town planning in the post CIAM era. The site for Golden Lane was actually part of a larger zone of destroyed buildings to the south. This was called The Barbican because it marked the entrance to the walled medieval city through Cripplegate which was just north of the ancient Roman fort, some walls of which still remained at the southern edge of the site. The two sites totaled 42 acres in area.

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon began designing Golden Lane in 1952 and the long curving building along Coswell street, along the west side of the site, was not finished until 1962. Part way through the design of Golden Lane, in 1955, the architects were asked to develop a design for the adjacent Barbican site and a revised scheme was submitted in 1959. The second design included a lot more housing in addition to other facilities including two schools, a museum and art center, and a theater and concert hall. The Barbican was built in 5 phases between 1963 and 1976 and the Arts Center here was not finished until 1981, so, the firm worked here from 1952 to 1981 or almost 30 years. The idea of making complete, inner city residential communities as an alternative to garden suburbs was the dominating concept with both sites and both can be seen to be derived from late CIAM planning ideas. The greatly elongated historical timeline results in stylistic time gap between the period when the sites and buildings were designed and when they were actually built resulting in the irony of Brutalist buildings being constructed in a Post Modernist epoch. The Golden Lane/Barbican complex represented a huge commitment to rebuild large areas of the central city along the principles of large new mixed use communities that combined commercial, recreation, school, cultural facilities and housing. About 8,000 people are housed here in a variety of buildings and apartment types. The two sites share a wide range of community facilities including shops, sports facilities, a swimming pool, community hall, tennis courts and a nursery school on the Golden Lane site and a girls school, music school, theatre, concert hall, art gallery, library, hostel, swimming pool and gym and shops and restaurants on the Barbican site, both built on a system of raised pedestrian platforms and bridges that connect buildings and provide parking for about 3000 cars. In 2002, both were listed as Grade II historic sites, reflecting a European trend to protect modern buildings as cultural monuments.

During the ten years it took to design and build Golden Lane, the program continued to evolve and the size of the site was increased. The style of individual buildings changed over this time, evolving from the late 1950’s brick bearing wall structure of the block of flats and the early glass curtain wall of the tower, to the Brutalist materials and forms of Crescent House, the last building to be built. The courtyard complex, however, was a consistent concept throughout this process, expressed as a tower block, first 11 and finally 16 stories high, centrally located with lower narrow slabs defining a series of open spaces, and courtyards as part of a landscaped, multi-level podium that also provided parking space. The ancillary elements of the program, the nursery school, community buildings and spaces and commercial facilities were scattered in different parts of the site, however, the community building and the tower occupy the central area of the site critically separating but enclosing four courtyard spaces. The tall glazed space of the indoor swimming pool provides a transparent, multi-level link between the two largest courtyards. Most of the commercial spaces are in the ground floor of Crescent House continuing the commercial activity along Goswell Road on the curving western edge. The lower buildings that enclose the courtyards are narrow 4 and 6-story gallery-access slabs that are arranged in a pure orthogonal arrangement. Of the total of over 550 dwellings, 120 of the smaller flats are located in the tower and the rest, 2-3 bedroom flats and maisonettes in the lower buildings.

Late CIAM town planning principles are applied in the site concept; an urban community, with differentiated functions, building types and sizes, existing in a defining landscape of open public space. Obvious precedents include Le Corbusier’s City for 3 Million, Plan Voisin, and Ville Radieuse projects: a mix of high-rise towers, a form of courtyard housing, a continuous landscape expressed as a multi-level, multi-functional layer beneath buildings, and the separation of pedestrians and autos. The immeubles-villas was the housing model used in these examples, a narrow, single loaded, skip-stop maisonette type arranged in large courtyard groups and later as an undulating slab form, the redent blocks.

The 4 and 6-story gallery-slabs in Golden Lane are completely explained in a detailed section perspective of the 6-story type that was published in the mid-1950’s. This remarkable drawing describes the concept and construction of three maisonettes on top of each other, raised above grade providing private entrances for the bottom dwelling and outside galleries for the upper two, with kitchens along the gallery, living spaces opening to a balcony with bedrooms above that extend out over the gallery. Construction is brick cross walls, concrete floors between maisonettes and wood framed bedroom floors. Exposed concrete balustrades are left unpainted and aluminum windows, and panels are used for the infill walls. In addition to the 6-story maisonettes, there was a 4-story version of the same building and 4-story blocks of flats also with gallery access and balconies.

This type of gallery-access residential slab, perhaps first used at Golden Lane, rapidly became a standard social housing model in England. The Smithson’s concept of the “streets-in-the air” was proposed in their Golden Lane project and later built at Park Hill in Sheffield. Other members of the Team 10 group were also using the gallery type, such as Candilis, Josic and Woods at Bagnols-sur-Ceze, in 1952, and especially their work in the new French town, Toulouse le Mirail, a town-scaled version of Park Hill. These immeubles-villas progeny represent the proletariat version of Le Corbusiers idealized apartment villas for the bourgeoisie. The 2-story-high spaces are missing, the large garden terrace is now a minimal balcony, rooms are minimally-sized and the spacious enclosed double gallery has become a narrow vertiginous passageway.

The 16-story tower is treated as a freestanding element that rests on a raised platform at the end of the lower building that houses the swimming pool and other community spaces. This tall vertical element creates a central focus to the site. This is a double loaded short slab type slightly askew of a true north /south alignment with aluminum class curtain walls on the two long sides, and mostly blank end walls where there are recessed fire stairs. Typically there are 8 one-bedroom flats per floor, with recessed balconies that have cantilevered balconies at the paired kitchens. A glass and aluminum curtain wall extends between balconies creating a very plastic, solid/void composition in the facades. This is a very fine example of an early curtain wall system that uses a bright yellow glass in the spandrel panels with glass above divided into tall sliding windows and a narrow zone of hopper windows above. A large curved canopy on the roof cantilevers out over the building façade, a symmetrical marker that also covers a roof terrace. While the base of the tower is not expressed as the full pilotis condition of its precedents, the vibrant, vertical tower is an important element of the centripetal spatial composition and a validation of the concept of mixed building heights and types from CIAM doctrines.

The Crescent House, finished in 1962, was the last building built at Golden Lane. The curving surface (crescent) along Goswell Road defines the site on the west while providing enclosure to the interior courtyard. Organized as 4 levels of flats above a zone of shops and other public spaces along the street, the style of this building places it in a Brutalist epoch, a clear indicator of the extended nature of the design and construction cycle in British housing construction during this time. The Brutalist features, brick walls, bush-hammered exposed concrete floor slabs, balcony balustrades, and vaulted roof, exposed round columns, and wood framed windows, form a stylistic link to the design of the Barbican which, by this time was getting started on the adjacent site.

Two years into the design of Golden Lane, the architects were asked to make a proposal for the Barbican. Preliminary design on this much larger, 35-acre site, continued through several stages between 1955 and 1959 and the beginning of the residential construction in 1963 that continued through the early 1970’s. In 1971 work was begun on the Barbican Arts center, a crescent-shaped complex and this construction lasted until 1982. The general idea of immeubles-villas type slabs forming several large courtyards, taller residential towers, the multi-level landscaped podium, and scattered public services and buildings persisted through the early designs providing a strong element of continuity with Golden Lane. The remains of the Roman Walls, and St. Giles church on the southern end of the site generally set an alignment that is about 45 degrees askew of the more north/south organization of Golden Lane. The curved Arts complex in the north central portion of the site acts as a pivot point between the grid of Golden Lane and that of the Barbican, an interface that was further emphasized by a row of three, 42-story, triangular towers spaced across the north edge of the site that act as a formal interface between grids. When built the towers were the tallest in Europe. The Barbican program was similar to Golden Lane but much larger housing a population of about 6500 with 2113 dwellings and 2500 parking spaces below grade. Public facilities included a city of London Girls School, a music school, theatre, concert hall, art gallery, library, youth hostel, plus shops, and a swimming pool and gym.The complex was built in 5 phases between 1963 & 1976 when the towers were completed. The Arts Center was opened in 1982.

A similar immeubles-villas courtyard building type is used in Barbican, forming two large “u”-shaped courts that interlock around St. Giles church and a central group of buildings, landscaped spaces and reflecting pools. Fragments of a similar building form are used in several other areas of the site, along the north edge and next to the Roman remains to help enclose the perimeter of the site and define specific spaces along the south side. Instead of the gallery-access slab maisonette type used in Golden Lane, double-loaded and point access slab types are used here. There are split-level variations, and some townhouses with access from the lower level parking areas. The typical slab is an 8-story exposed concrete frame structure built up from the podium level, with a cantilevered frame supporting a zone of balconies The structure is revealed as a higher pilotis at the podium and has a penthouse situation at on the roof, expressed as a terrace with alternating vaulted roofs. The tall residential towers have triangular plans with a luxurious narrow 3 and 4-bedroom apartments facing each side of the shape that have continuous balconies and spectacular views across the city. The Brutalist influences in the Barbican are especially apparent in the materials used in the housing: exposed concrete with a bush hammered finish, wood framed windows, the dark purple brick, and vaulted penthouse flats.

Clearly, Barbican was intended for a higher income rental population. The inclusion of an Arts Center, schools, museum, and other public cultural facilities and shops and restaurants in the program, the ingenious development of the multi-level landscaped podiums, the high quality finishes and materials, and generous dwelling types are an indication of the market for whom Barbican was intended. In recent years, this rental market has changed to about 80% long-term leases. Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were perhaps better known for other architectural commissions, especially their extensive university work. Still, the scale, diversity of the program, location, overall architectural quality and drawn out design and construction time make this one of their most important commissions. The general urban strategy to create new communities in central London can hardly be contested. Still, criticisms that Golden Lane and especially The Barbican are closed enclaves rather than integrated communities has some validity and it is hard to compare this with other large public housing projects that did not have the benefit of public investment in site acquisition, the investment of private capital in infrastructure and specialized cultural facilities and speculative commercial construction, or the design of luxury housing.

Colquhoun, Ian, RIBA Book of 20th Century British Housing, Butterfield-Heinemann, Oxford, 1999, pp. 64-67

Glendinning, MIles, and Stefan Muthesius, Tower Block, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994, pp. 39,62,105,120-22

Architects Journal, June 20, 1957, pp. 911-15

Architectural Review, June, 1957, pp. 414-425

Architecture & Urbanism, Feb, 1974, pp. 12-24

Architectural Review, October, 1973, pp. 71-79

Progressive Architecture, July, 1977, pp. 58-67

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