I remember the first time a friend took me to the Barbican, and the giddy feeling of its otherworldliness. Since then I come back, relatively often, preferably on gray weekends, to admire its towers; gray on grey, gloom broken by its verdant palms, lake, fountains.
The longer I stayed in London, the more otherworldly has the Barbican become to me, and the more attached I am to it – or at least the idea of it. It has risen in the throbbing, frigid, heart of London’s commerce, from the ashes of WWII. An avant-garde development, praising community, with the largest cultural centre in the middle, celebrating the post-war ideals of a more enlightened society. It looks incredibly quaint in today’s London, and indeed, Europe. The world of stratospheric rents, the world of deserted multi-milion “luxury developments”, the world of all the dumb money going into dig-downs, golden cars and Louis Vuiton bags. Probably, the most quaint thing about the Barbican is its ambition, unlike its equally tall recent neighbours, which only celebrate achievement. I see it’s concrete soaked with wish to soar above the society of the day, and to elevate it though culture, cosmopolitanism and shared purpose. Sadly, those ambitions seem to be no longer, either in architecture or politics, in England or elsewhere.
Still there is the Barbican: the exhibitions, the plays and music, lake and towers, a monument to dreams past.