The Barbican Estate

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Between 1979 and 1983, Peter Bloomfield was commissioned by the Barbican to document the final stages of the construction of this enormous estate in central London- an undertaking that had begun in the 60’s. His photographs capture the beginning of a development that most of us are familiar with, have had some experience of, and either love or hate in terms of its architectural design.

My recent interest in the Barbican development, and other post-war complexes in England, is largely because of the current economic and political climate of this country that has led to what many are calling a ‘housing crisis.’ I am part of the generation for which affordable housing options, particularly getting on to the housing ladder and purchasing property, are very limited. Almost everyone I know, who have been graduated for several years, are starting careers and settling down, in their mid to late twenties, are resigned to the fact that they will not own their own house now, in the near future, or possibly ever. We have become trapped in a largely self-governing rental market, and many have only just moved out of shared accommodation. Some still live with their parents, having been forced to choose between having a decent lifestyle or having their own place to live.

Upon visiting the Barbican estate most recently this year, I began to think about how the government had used experts in the field- architects- to come up with innovative and creative solutions to their housing crisis, the result of which can still be seen in the utopian vision of the Barbican estate. These were council houses, designed by the best architects in the country, and provided to almost 50% of the population at reasonable and affordable monthly rental prices. The current government is doing its best to dismantle the solutions that social housing provided, instead opting to allow developers to build identical, anonymous apartment blocks that are more often than not sold to international investors and rented back to local people at ever increasing rates- something that has been confirmed by the recent Panama Paper leak.

It seems hard to imagine our current government looking to the architects of today to solve this housing crisis, even though half a decade ago this was triumphantly carried out, the result of which can still be seen in the brutalist buildings up and down the country.

 

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