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IDEAS / architecture

The Barbican Centre. A Quiet Confusion

16 February 2015

words:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

photos:  Jian Yong Khoo

A place of connection, a place of transition between two different worlds: the street and the courtyard. The former, a reflection of everyday life. The latter, an image of the pleasure of stopping, sitting, observing and thinking. Two universes governed by opposing laws: that of motion and that of stillness.

The main flow takes one from the outside to the ‘inside’. From the street, into the primary volume, through to the ‘hidden square’, where the magic of the building can be experienced.

In this fairy-tale place, far from the chaos of London, the Barbican Centre finds its natural extension in the square and in the canal. The building, under a spell, loses its form and consistency: it decomposes into white benches, lowering itself to the human level. This is the beginning of the breakdown process. The building regains firmness in the red bricks of the square and prepares for a last transformation: its dissolution into water, the final step of its mutation from mass to fluid. The canal leaves a trace of the building’s origins: a brutalist image struggling in the sinuous water.

The barbican, in its apparent parallel universe, becomes one of the many types of architecture that surround it. Grey but green, the building stands out but does not dominate the area. It steps back, giving space to the preceding square.

On the other hand, the interior of the building presents itself as a maze: a disarray of staircases and spaces bathed in neon light. Dark, a bit confusing, it seems designed to disorientate, coxing visitors to wander the premises. Visitors willing to explore will eventually arrive in other gardens, in other solitary courtyards, in other sites of passage on the road back to the starting point.

The barbican is a place of movement, a place of investigation but at the same time a place of reflection. A place to find the quiet in the confusion.

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architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.