Founded thirty-eight years ago on London’s South Bank, the Barbican Arts Centre is a major institution offering a diverse programme of cultural activities covering art, theatre, music and cinema. Built of 130,000 cubic metres of concrete, the building also features elevated gardens, lakes, stairs and high-walks. The Barbican forms part of a large estate in central London designed in the stark, geometric Brutalist style. Derived from the French term ‘béton brut’, meaning ‘raw concrete’, Brutalism was an international architectural movement that gained popularity in the 1950s and lasted until the 1970s. While it lacks the aesthetic appeal of older buildings in London, the architecture of the Barbican is a major attraction for visitors, many of whom take the Barbican Architecture Tour to learn more about its history. Speak Up spoke to tour guide Oliver Slape. As he explained, while Brutalist architecture might not be to everybody’s tastes, it is something to be celebrated as an example of what can be achieved with ambitious urban planning.

Oliver Slape (English accent): On a visit to the Barbican, you may encounter a group taking in an Architecture Tour, a 90-minute walking tour of the complex led by an expert guide. The tour takes visitors across the Barbican Centre and surrounding Barbican Estate, venturing through high-walks, leafy courts and sweeping crescents, and visiting key points of interest including the tranquil Lakeside Terrace, the striking form of the Sculpture Court, and the trio of soaring residential towers.


And the Barbican is the perfect place for families to spend time with their kids.

Oliver Slape: The Barbican offers accessible, fun and inspiring activities for the whole family to enjoy for free across the centre. These include Squish Space, a multi-sensory play adventure for children aged under five; the Big Barbican Adventure, a do-it-yourself adventure trail that allows families to discover the Barbican through cryptic clue solving, drawing and games; and the Barbican Conservatory, an idyllic oasis in the centre of the city, bursting with lush and varied plant life and three indoor ponds.


Educational events are an important part of the Barbican programme, said Slape.

Oliver Slape: The Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning programme supports people of all ages and backgrounds to discover their creative voice and access world-class arts for free through ground-breaking projects such as Young Poets, Barbican Box and the Chronic Youth Film Festival. The programme is a joint division between the Barbican and Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and has been running for ten years now. Ranging from workshops, events and talent development programmes that give people their first taste of the arts, to those that enable existing artists to push the boundaries of their practice, all Creative Learning projects are designed to bring people together and equip them with confidence and creative skills for life. The Barbican’s Creative Learning department now delivers more than forty programmes and events alongside one hundred and fifty partners to over 22,000 participants every year, giving people who may otherwisestruggle to access the arts the opportunity to do so.