Our building

Our history

Illustration of Barbican Centre cross section

A Grade II listed building, the Barbican is one of London’s best examples of Brutalist architecture.

The Barbican was developed from designs by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon as part of a utopian vision to transform an area of London left devastated by bombing during the Second World War. 

'Barbican' used to be the name of a street in a bustling commercial area in the ward of Cripplegate. By the end of the 19th century it was the centre of the rag trade and was home to fabric and leather merchants, furriers, glovers and a host of other tradesmen.

However, on 29 December 1940 the City of London came under the fire of the German bombers and the area around Barbican was flattened as fire swiftly spread across the warehouses. By the end of the war, only a few buildings still stood, including the damaged Church of St Giles’ Cripplegate.

After the Second World War, the Corporation of the City of London, the governing body of the City, sought to rebuild the commercial area known as Cripplegate ward which had been almost completely razed to the ground during the Blitz. Recognising the need for comprehensive planning after the war, the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 enabled local authorities, such as the Corporation, to buy land in order to redevelop large areas.

The Centre took over a decade to build and was opened by The Queen in 1982, who declared it ‘one of the modern wonders of the world’ with the building seen as a landmark in terms of its scale, cohesion and ambition. Its stunning spaces and unique location at the heart of the Barbican Estate have made it an internationally recognised venue, set within an urban landscape acknowledged as one of the most significant architectural achievements of the 20th century. 

‘One of the modern wonders of the world‘
HM The Queen (1982)



Long Read: 35 Years of Firsts

We look back through 35 ‘Firsts’ from our boundary-pushing heritage over the last three and a half decades including a short essay by Cerys Matthews.

Collection: From the Archive

Lear more about the construction and history of the Barbican Centre and Estate as we dig into our archive to reveal rarely seen photography, architectural plans, video and essays.