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Barbican Centre is the largest performing arts centre in Europe. Located in the north of the City of Londonmarker, Englandmarker, in the heart of the Barbican Estatemarker, the Centre hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. It also houses a library, three restaurants, and a conservatory. The London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra are based in the Barbican Centre's concert hall.

The Barbican Centre is owned, funded, and managed by the City of London Corporation – the third-largest funder of the arts in the United Kingdommarker. It was built as the City's gift to the nation, and opened in 1982 at a cost of £161 million (the equivalent to almost £400 million in 2007).

Performance halls and facilities

  • Barbican Hall: capacity 1,949; home of the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
  • Barbican Theatre: capacity 1,166
  • Pit: flexible 200-seat theatre venue
  • Barbican Art Gallery and the free new commission gallery The Curve
  • Barbican Film - 3 Cinema screens: seating capacity: 288, 255 and 155
  • Informal performance spaces.
  • Restaurants: 3
  • Conference halls: 7
  • Trade exhibition halls: 2

The library located on the second floor, is one of five libraries that form the City of London Libraries. It is one of the largest public libraries in London. The library has a separate arts library, a large music library with a large selection of CDs and scores and a welcoming children's library which holds regular free events for children.The library also houses the historical 'London Collection' - a superb collection of books and resources, - some of which date back 300 years, all of which are available for loan. In addition the music library has a free practice piano for use by the public and the library also holds regular literary events and has an art exhibition space for hire.More information can be found at

History and Design

Barbican Arts Centre and lakeside terrace
Interior - concert hall foyer; library and gallery above
The Centre had a long development period, only opening long after the surrounding Barbican Estatemarker housing complex had been built. It is situated in an area which was badly bombed during World War II.

The Centre, designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in the Brutalist style, has a complex multi-level layout with numerous entrances. Lines painted on the ground to help would-be audience members avoid getting lost on the walkways of the Barbican Housing Estatemarker en route to the Centre. The Centre's design – a concrete ziggurat – has always been controversial and divides opinion. It was voted "London's ugliest building" in a Grey London poll in September 2003.

In September 2001, arts minister Tessa Blackstone announced in that the Barbican complex was to be a Grade II listed building. It has been designated a site of special architectural interest for its scale, its cohesion and the ambition of the project.. The same architectural practice also designed the Barbican Housing Estatemarker and the nearby Golden Lane Estatemarker. Project architect John Honer later worked on the British Librarymarker at St Pancras – a red brick ziggurat.

In the mid-1990s a cosmetic improvement scheme by Theo Crosby, of the Pentagram design studio, added statues and decorative features reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement. In 2005-6, the Centre underwent a more significant refurbishment, designed by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, which improved circulation and introduced bold signage in a style in keeping with the Centre's original 1970s Brutalist architecture. That improvement scheme added an internal bridge linking the Silk Street foyer area with the lakeside foyer area. The Centre's Silk Street entrance, previously dominated by an access for vehicles, was modified to give better pedestrian access. The scheme included removing most of the mid-1990s embellishments.

Outside, the main focal point of the Centre is the lake and its neighbouring terrace. The theatre's fly tower has been surrounded by glass and made into a spectacular high-level conservatory. The Barbican Hall's acoustic has also been controversial: some praised it as attractively warm, but others found it too dry for large-scale orchestral performance.

In 1994, Chicago acoustician Larry Kirkegaard oversaw a £500,000 acoustic re-engineering of the hall "producing a perceptible improvement in echo control and sound absorption", music critic Norman Lebrecht wrote in October 2000 – and returned in 2001 to rip out the stage canopy and drop adjustable acoustic reflectors, designed by Caruso St John, from the ceiling, as part of a £7.5 mn refurbishment of the hall. Art music magazine Gramophone still complained about "the relative dryness of the Barbican acoustic" in August 2007.

The theatre was built as the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was involved in the design, but the RSC left in 2002 after a series of allegedly poor seasons and because the then artistic director, Adrian Noble, wanted to develop the company's touring performances. The theatre's response was to extend its existing six-month season of international productions, Barbican International Theatre Event, to the whole year.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the City of Londonmarker's Barbican Library, neither part of the centre, are also on the site. The Museum of Londonmarker, is nearby at Aldersgatemarker, and is also within the Barbican Estatemarker.

Nearby railway stations

See also


  1. History of the Barbican Estate from the City of London website, accessed: 1 February 2009
  2. "Barbican tops ugly buildings poll", BBC News, 22 September 2006 accessed 11 January 2007
  3. Listing of the Barbican complex (City of London) accessed: 11 January 2007
  4. Concert-Hall Blues - Oh for an Acceptable Symphonic Environment – Lebrecht Weekly, 11 October 2000.Retrieved on 2007-08-16.
  5. August 2007 Gramophone quoted at LSO CD Reviews, London Symphony Orchestra website, undated.Retrieved on 2007-08-16.

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