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Mackay + Partners’ Barbican turret conversion wins planning, despite opposition


Mackay + Partners has been given the go-ahead to convert a turret into a flat at the Barbican in the City of London, in the face of strong objections from the Twentieth Century Society

The City of London granted planning permission, by a vote of 11 to 8,  to the conversion of the John Wesley turret – also known as the Aldersgate turret – at the Grade II-listed, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon-designed Brutalist development. 

The three-storey-high turret sits on the south-west side of the Barbican Arts Centre, which opened in 1982, and features tripartite arched windows, a pyramidal roof and concrete floor slabs.

Proposals for the two-bedroom flat include the insertion of windows, a mezzanine floor, and an external stairwell and entrance hall.

But the plans came under fire from conservation group the Twentieth Century Society.

In a letter objecting to the plans, the society said it opposed the insertion of windows, external stairwell and entrance lobby because they would ‘disrupt the robust solidity of the building form’ and interfere with a surface that, in its view, should ‘be textured only by the materiality of the brick’.

The society also objected to the reflective glazing of the windows, saying it would disrupt the ‘perceived depth of the space and the darkness’ of the building.

It also opposed converting a public space – although it is not currently accessible – to a private one.

A similar scheme by CHA to convert the turret into a flat was rejected in 2008.

Twentieth Century Society conservation adviser Tess Pinto said: ‘The City has invested a great deal of time and effort into commissioning an extensive and rigorous conservation management plan to help safeguard the Barbican from this sort of development. To give permission wilfully disregards the expert guidance contained in that report.

‘Not only are we deeply concerned about the loss of this unique piece of townscape and public realm, but the decision sets a worrying precedent for further incremental development, that will serve only to erode the special character of the estate. That this is allowed to happen at an iconic and well-loved site like the Barbican illustrates the huge challenge we still face in protecting brutalist architecture nationwide.’

The planning application for the scheme received 37 public comments, 34 of which objected to the proposals. 

But Mackay + Partners principal Ken Mackay said that, although the walkway is public, the upper part of the turret had not been used for around 15 years, and that the plans represented a ‘good use of empty space in line with what the City of London want to do.’

He added: ‘We’ve taken into consideration all of the comments that have been raised during the consultation periods; two rounds of it. In the end the City of London want to move forward with it, and that’s what will happen.’

Mackay, alongside Tracey Wiles, a partner at Make Architects, previously converted the former Estate Office at the Barbican into a five-bedroom home for themselves and their family.

The house, which retained the original concrete pillars and walls, was featured in a music video for the song Silver & Gold (3’18) by hip-hop artists Sway and Akon.

It was previously listed as on sale for £4.5 million on The Modern House in 2015, before being listed with estate agent Stirling Ackroyd, but was withdrawn by Mackay in July. 

Internal staircase window detail

Internal staircase - proposed window detail

Source: Mackay + Partners 


Readers' comments (4)

  • Described as a public space - although it is not currently accessible - so what was the original purpose of the turret?

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  • Chris Rogers

    Perhaps the same firm will now be granted permission to, say, insert a flat ceiling in the vaulted covered walkways and use the resulting area as a very long, very low ceilinged flat? Y'know, for kids.

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  • Anyone thinking of buying the flat will need to have no sense of smell. The reek of curry from the Indian restaurant at the base of the tower can be sniffed from 25 yards away.

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  • Robert, the turret was originally part of the walkway, designed as a viewing point both out of and into the Estate. It was a playful folly, it didn't have a purpose as such and that is part of its interest and appeal. The City have gated off the upper levels for the past few years, with no real justification for doing so other than citing the usual 'anti-social behaviour.'

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