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BARBICAN LIFE


The Small in the Great: small architectural artefacts in the Barbican


Barbican resident and photographer, Jane Northcote, looks closely at the Barbican and finds a universe of detail amongst the concrete


Mysterious coloured paint on the drain covers


F Jane Northcote


A miniature garden in the Podium tiles


or many people, the Barbican is a collection of monumental buildings. It is a place of grand vistas, experienced in disconcerting gusts of wind, amid a three-dimensional maze of walkways. “None of this is for the faint-hearted” observes Pevsner. After eight years of living here, I have mastered the three-dimensional maze, and I still admire the grand buildings. Now I notice also the tiny details, which intrigue me. They have become part of the reassuring dialogue with my home: visual rhymes and rhythms that are repeated on my routes through the buildings.


In particular I enjoy the fact that many of these items show patterns of use and age. Light switches are scratched with repeated cleaning. Door handles have become pitted and flecked with paint. As the walkways have settled, the podium tiles are variously split, patched, and streaked with water deposits. The famous Yellow Line becomes intermittent, mended, diverted and faded. The beauty and interest of the


place is enhanced by this ageing. Each small item carries the history of the estate into the future. For a forthcoming exhibition at the Barbican Library, I have been photographing these details, in an effort to demonstrate the importance of looking closely at where we live. There is much of interest here. For example, the material most commonly associated with the Barbican is concrete. Certainly there is concrete, and very interesting it is too. Up close, it takes on all the colours of a geological landscape, and it exists in many varieties across the estate. That could be a whole project in itself. But have you seen the wonderful wooden textures in the Barbican? The end-on wooden floor blocks in the Barbican Centre, Level -1, make a pattern of such richness that it should be a tourist attraction in its own right. In some places it even has wonderful brass studs. Then there are the podium tiles. These appear in all sorts of related variations, shiny on the floors inside our blocks, and sometimes with a tiny grid pattern on their surface outdoors. They are cracked into irregular tessellations on Ben Jonson Highwalk, making a subversive crazy paving out of the original rectilinear


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