Why is the
barbican the way it is?



ANT as an


In my thesis, I
shall be exploring how Actor Network Theory has played a part and how it has
been utilised within the architectural design and master planning on my chosen
case study. I shall also be exploring the thinking behind the architects’ work,
how and if the situations at the time influenced the sites production and how
it is perceived to current date. The initial designs and their sole purposes, and
how these were amended for its use; reasoning behind how the site is how it is,
how the architects came to the final proposal, and gaining an understanding on
how the building works as well as how it has adapted to social and political
implications since completion.

The core focus
of my text is how Actor Network Theory has been utilised on a specific case
study, understanding the thinking behind the theory, its intentions, how it is
utilised and how it relates to my chosen site. Unpicking the methodology by
comparing it and relating it to the case study, as well as relative work by
either the same, or different architects to gain a much broader understanding
of how the working of the building(s) is constantly adapting to its users

ANT (short for Actor
Network Theory) is a “theoretical and methodological approach to social theory
where everything in the social and natural worlds exists” –  however it is constantly shifting the
networks to form many more relationships, where it is stated that “nothing
exists outside of those relationships”. 
Humans are the main drive for the Actor Network Theory; where it is
often seen that ideas, processes, and other natural factors contribute to the
importance of the theory. However, social factors are often overlooked, where
they are only accounted for once they describe the activity rather than explaining
it. Using this theory, I aim to dissect my chosen case study and understand how
ANT is integrated within. Exploring how the networks have been assembled over a
period, the outcome they hoped to achieve, their sole objective in mind during
the proposal stages of the design, and whether this has been achieved or
maintained since construction.


Powell and Bon, the three architects who designed their most famous project,
‘The Barbican’ formed their practice shortly after Powell’s wining of an
architectural competition. Prior to this, the three worked at Kingston
Polytechnic, formally known as Kingston University. While here, they each
individually entered a competition to have their own individual proposed
designs used by The City of London in their council house development, known as
the ‘Golden Lane Estate’. They each made an agreement with each other, that if
any one of them was to win the competition, that they would then together, form
a partnership and deliver the project as a triad. Due to Powell’s winning,
Chamberlin, Powell and Bon established their own practice in 1952, where from
here they had their first project as a firm the ‘Golden Lane Estate’.

The ‘Golden Lane
Estate’ one of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s first projects as a practice,
completed and opened in 1957, was initially a design proposal for a competition
held by the City of London, as mentioned previously. The sole purpose of the
production of the site was due to the aftermath of the Second World War –
London took a huge hit, leaving many places demolished by the blitz, killing
thousands and making many homeless – the design brief was to create many
council houses to home those who previously lost their homes in the Blitz, or
to home those than helped serve London in the War.

Previously, the
area that the site is located on use to be home of many small industries, such
as metal working and due to the time that they were in production, many of
these buildings contained small war bunkers, which were dug up during the construction
of the estate remain exterior landscaping features; creating a contrast between
the past and present within the site once constructed, with around 60% of the
sites footprint being landscaping, and the detailing of green living roofs of
some of the buildings, this meant from a birds eye perspective, the footprint
of the site was much smaller than from eye level; with the site containing one
of the record breaking heights in the city of London for a living complex (over
50m in height).

The design of
the estate was not like many others at that time, (1950s) due to its focus of being
home to many studio, or one bedroom flats, instead of the common two or three
bedroom flats.  The site contains a total
of 554 units, however 359 of those consist of being studio or singular bedding
flats, the rest being a mix of double and triple. – this gave the view of the
construction a whole different aspect as to why
they designed the site to home so many singular living spaces, not to mention
the bright primary colours that Chamberlin, Powell and Bon used on the exterior
façade which they took inspiration from Le Corbusier’s ‘Unité d’habitation’,
however, they used his work as a precedence in more than one way other than the
colours, but the layouts and variety of flats contained.

The site in a
whole after construction was viewed as a ‘post-war recovery’ due to its publicity,
not only did it give a positive insight of the possibilities of social housing
and urban living, but it became a precedence and a push for their designs for
their next big project just around the corner from Golden Lane Estate, formally
known as The Barbican.


their practice in 1952, during the first half of the architectural shift
between Art Deco and Post-modernism came along Brutalism, which meant there was
various controversial comments left on such work. Brutalism was mainly a use of
large amounts of concrete, which was often left exposed featuring the ‘core’ of
the high-rise structures outside of the building, or the connecting walkways
along the façade. Whereas Art Deco and Post-modernism had a much richer feel in
terms of detailing and appearance, which left the public often referring to
Brutalist architecture as “messy” or “too industrial looking” – which in hindsight
is understandable due to the other forms of art that were around at that time. The
1950s is was a popular time in history for its fashion and ‘flareness’ which very
much so complements the Art Deco and Post-modern designs, leaving brutalism as
almost an outsider in terms of appearance. Due to this transition, the style
that was chosen for the Golden Lane Estate, by Donald McMorran (who was also a
member of the London team who designed conservative style housing for the corporation
of London) was a strong contrast to his usual structures, which initially gives
us the question why was the heavy
brutalist design chosen to be placed just east of the Centre of London, what
was the back idea behind the design? How did Chamberlin, Powell and Bon convey
their design to the corporation for them to choose that design over a much less
dense looking project. The triad completed many memorable projects during their
time working together in the 1950s and early 1960s, such as a campus for Univeristy
of Leeds, and the known Bousfield school, Chelsea, London.


During the first
stages of construction for the Golden Lane estate, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon got
personally asked by the corporation of the City of London to submit designs for
a site just around the corner from Golden Lane, now known as The Barbican.

The site,
formally known as the Barbican Estate, was also home to many small industries,
and was known within the capital as being the area within London for the ‘rag
trade’, however the over 40-acre site got virtually wiped out during the World
War Two Blitz, killing thousands of people and destroying the existing
buildings on site, only leaving partial remains of the famous London Wall,
which was utilised by fighters and for the use of protecting the city against attacks.

The barbican
site, as mentioned before was widely known for its production of small trades,
commonly being home to metal and leather trades. Prior to these industrial
working sites, the area’s history dates back thousands of years. In the years
90 and 120 AD Londinium, which is now known as London, was home to the roman
production of the great fort, as well as the production of a bridge connecting
the north and south sides of the city together, forming a major port for
commercial use and trading – these still stand today, however remains of them
are located



Background of the London site-  Info about the site – background info,
meaning, use purpose,


Initial plans by other architects for the site to barbican
initial plans to the final approved. The cities idea on the plans


The Barbican estate famously contains
some of the initial designs the practice incorporated in the golden lane
estate: small living spaces, often meant the kitchen and living spaces were
combined, and various split levels within a maisonette to differentiate the many
living spaces. They also featured some of their own thought processes such as
raising the living spaces up on ‘stilts’ or ‘podiums’ to allow the residents or
visitors of the centre to roam around the site on foot to explore the grounds.

Influences for the barbican, golden lane estate, other
influences – le corb, the purpose of the site, what influenced its design to be
how it is.