The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Barbican management guidelines update

The Barbican’s listing has meant an increased awareness of the pressures for change and maintenance issues and how to deal with them without damaging the historically relevant components of the fabric.

It was decided that establishing Listed Building Management Guidelines were the best way forward and I have been representing the C20 Society at the monthly meetings of the working party since well before Christmas. The key interested parties aside from us include representatives from the Barbican Residential Consultation Committee, English Heritage, the Corporation of London’s Department of Community Services and Department for Planning and Transportation. A grant of £20,000 has been made available from English Heritage for these purposes and Avanti Architects were appointed to provide detailed research and assessment.

Guidelines are now increasingly being used for post-war listed buildings where experience has shown an increased pressure for change. This is especially so for residential developments. Perhaps the reason for this is the fact that listing criteria for twentieth century buildings are the most stringent, requiring almost all of the building’s fabric to be intact including the interior fixtures and fittings. The consequence of this is that these interiors are then subject to Listed Building Consent scrutiny. This is not necessarily so for older buildings where there is seldom an original kitchen to consider.

Since the finished draft document has been out for consultation we have become aware of residents’ concern over the implications of the possible constraints that may be imposed on their freedom to change their interiors. This is particularly the case for the original kitchens and bathrooms since they are the most vulnerable to change with a change of ownership.

The Barbican’s designs for kitchens and bathrooms were groundbreaking and are certainly worth keeping. Many of their features are now experiencing a comeback. Top of the range bathroom stores are increasingly featuring integral white tiled worktops with flat white sinks and broad horizontal mirrors. Kitchen designers are promoting white fronts with integral handle strips and stainless steel counters. Now is really not the time to pull out the original bathroom or kitchen.

There are certainly issues surrounding the lifespan of items such as the integrated ovens that are no longer manufactured to the same specifications. Changes will have to be made to accommodate new appliances, but this can be done with care to the original fabric.

At the public launch of the management guidelines there was some resentment by the residents. It became clear that they had been misinformed early on about what the listing of the estate would mean. It appears that prior to listing they had been told that the interiors would not be affected by the estate’s historic protection. This is clearly not the case and more and more residents are now realizing that the interiors are part of the listed fabric and subject to building controls. There is no grey area here.

As prime advocates for the historic interest of intact interiors the Twentieth Century Society is now bearing the brunt of the residents’ misinformation. Many find our views on this matter unreasonable and extreme and feel that they should be given complete freedom to change their interiors because they are not visible from the outside. They find it difficult to accept that the interiors are already protected alongside the exteriors by law.

I think it is important to stress that the need to apply for Listed Building Consent does not mean that no change is allowed. It is simply a filter of assessing the change that is proposed. Listed Building Consent is in place not to stifle change but to manage it. The Twentieth Century Society will not object to the replacement of damaged fixtures and fittings in kitchens and bathrooms, but will not agree to the removal of perfectly intact original built-in features. This is a perfectly reasonable stance to assume in respect to a Grade II protected interior.

It may be time for English Heritage to step in now and take a stronger stance. This would be a tremendous relief of the pressures currently resting on the shoulders of the Twentieth Century Society.

In the longer term we hope that increasingly Barbican residents will become aware of the value of their interiors as something worth keeping. Pointing out their historic significance in the new Guidelines is a first step forward.

Eva Branscome