When I took the Barbican pictures in 1975 I was in my 20s and really angry. I was angry at a lot of things. Angry at the inexorable march of the City building out eastwards, rolling over the houses that my friends and I were living in, demolishing the pubs we drank at, erasing the little old shops & cafés we used. Angry at the council 'decanting' my neighbours to Nowhereland, taking over and bulldozing any housing that the City didn't swallow to build places that we couldn't live in.
I was angry at all sorts of shit. Angry at the way the police stopped and searched us whenever we poked our heads out onto the street. The world around us felt structured to reduce us to an insignificant irrelevance. Designed to isolate us, to exclude us, to oppose us, to sideline the social causes – equality, racial integration, decent employment, affordable housing and effective health care – that we cared about.
A massive, imposing structure seemingly dropped from the sky, the Barbican typified a wider uncaring and absolute power over our environment. Its great weight, the unassailable concreteness of it, the way that it resembled a walled city with whole areas locked and gated against outsiders – all these came together to say “You are no part of this”. It was the very opposite of welcoming; reeking of wealth, only navigable by those who knew the secrets of its confusing mazes and owned the right keys.
Built to separate rich from poor, to make the wealthy wealthier, the Barbican obliterated a space previously filled with shops and housing and pubs and libraries. An organic ecosystem supporting people on low incomes, people who worked in the area, whose families had grown up there for generations was expunged.
The Barbican represented something profoundly anti-human. Its very structure boasted of its conquest. A hundred times taller than a human, its coldly invulnerable mass presenting only walls and barriers smugly impervious to human interaction, the estate seemed designed to emphasise the unimportance of our individual lives.