Friday, 28 January 2011

Barbican and Burlington House

One day and two iconic galleries; equal ambassadors of the arts yet speaking disparate languages in terms of architecture.

How much are our experiences influenced by the surroundings in which they occur? Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Barbican and Burlington House, visiting two phenomenal fashion exhibitions (Future Beauty: 30 years of Japanese Fashion and Aware, Art, Fashion and Identity respectively) yet finding myself absorbed not just in the clothes, but in the imposing buildings that housed them.

Like Marmite and the Tate Modern, with the Barbican you either love it or you hate it. Europe's largest arts venue, the Barbican Centre was designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in the 1970s. A true definition of Brutalist architecture, it really is brutal. Awkward, angular, moody and far from pretty: the Barbican is the teenage boy of architecture.

In 2003 the Centre was awarded the accolade of London's Ugliest Building. Three years earlier, however, the Barbican was given a Grade 2 listing.

The hulking concrete building continues to divide opinions, mine included. I never used to like the Barbican. Looming and gloomy, not to mention a nightmare to navigate around, it never used to appeal that much.

As I have grown up, however, it seems the teenage boy has too. And I have been wooed. Exhibition aside , a day spent walking through and around the Barbican had me transfixed. There was beauty in the symmetry, and calm in the cavernous interior. Crisp corners, graphic squares and fabulously straight lines had me staring skyward; up, up and up at those towering concrete walls.

It may be a design cliché, but maybe the line between ugliness and beauty is a fine one after all.
Over at Piccadilly the classic Burlington House makes for a more traditional art gallery. The 17th Century mansion is undeniably beautiful. No one would be voting for this as London's Ugliest Building.

The contrast between these two famous buildings is one of the reasons why I love London. The historic and the modern, the traditional and the controversial. All in one city.

1 comment:

  1. I refer you to my earlier txt about how good this is :D