As long ago as 1952, discussions were underway as to what to do with Cripplegate, an area north of the City of London badly damaged in The Blitz during World War II. It was first proposed in 1956 that an arts center should occupy part of it; by 1971 it was suggested that it would take six years to build and cost £17 million. Eleven years and £161 million later, the Barbican Arts Centre - the City of London Corporation's 'gift to the Nation*' - was ready to receive its royal assent. More than 3,500 people were on hand on this day in 1982 when the Queen arrived, unveiled a plaque, and then settled in to enjoy a concert by the London Symphony Orchestra and a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The site is also occupied by the Barbican Estate and is adjacent to the Golden Lane Estate; controversial for its Brutalist architecture (by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon), several schemes have been implemented over the years to make the site at least more aesthetically amenable to humans. In 2001 the Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone announced that the Barbican would be a Grade II listed building as a whole, for its scale, ambition, and cohesion.
Still the largest arts center in Western Europe, the Barbican also boasts a branch of the British Library (in the shape of a red-brick ziggurat!) and the Museum of London, as well as Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the City of London School for Girls, a YMCA, fire hall, shops, restaurants, and access to several Tube and rail stations. Residential towers are grouped around a park and artificial lake, and all amenities on site are connected below ground.
*In other words a gift the Nation bought for itself...
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