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How could CPB have got it so terribly wrong?

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In his review of the exhibition at Chamberlin Powell & Bon's (CPB) Barbican about the Barbican, John McLean, as a resident, concentrates on the housing aspects of the Barbican, as does the exhibition (AJ 28.2.02). It is salutary to be reminded that the Barbican is primarily a housing scheme - an attempt by the City to legitimise itself as a real place where people lived, not just a machine for manipulating money. It was a bold and remarkably successful attempt to create an urban housing scheme, conceived when the urban Lord Rogers was barely out of short trousers. But the public face of the Barbican, the gilt on the gingerbread and, for most people, the only reason for fighting our way across the high-level walkways, is the Arts Centre, about which the exhibition is much less informative.

What I want to know is what went wrong. Why, given that the Barbican was designed for pedestrian circulation at podium level is the entrance from the podium so mean? Why was the original plan for the Arts Centre to share its entrance with the Guildhall School of Music abandoned so that the GSM is now entered by its intended back door?

How did it come about that a Grand Staircase descends through the art gallery and library and is predictably closed for security reasons, and vertical circulation is via the escape stairs? Why does the only welcoming side of the building open onto the lakeside, an area inaccessible from the surrounding streets? Why, when the concert hall was designed for the LSO, is its platform barely big enough for a full-size symphony orchestra, never mind a choir as well?

It is difficult to believe that CPB got so much wrong. Was the brief changed? It would make a fascinating Post-Latham study of how the building procurement process can fall apart.

I don't suppose the City will ever let us know.

Alan Kennedy, London

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