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A visit to the Barbican in the City of London.

I don’t know about you, but I thought the Barbican in London was simply an arts centre – simply an Arts centre” there’s an understatement for a start. Just how wrong can you be?

ticketMy wife, Sue, knowing I like Brutalist architecture bought me a ticket for a guided architectural tour of the ‘complex’ and complex it is.

Not only is it an arts centre – by the way, this section of the development was finalised and built last – but it is a housing project comprising around 2000 flats. 

First, throw away all preconceptions of what a ‘housing project’ of this size would look like. The project was conceived in the late ’50s by architects, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. They planned and delivered a high quality, wonderfully detailed living space, and due to the management of the terms of the letting or sale of the units, it has remained so ever since. Strict conditions apply regarding what the occupants can and cannot do –  but I’m getting in front of myself.


The church of St Giles without Cripplegate, one of only 2 buildings left in the area after the blitz. The stonework in the foreground is part of the remains of the original Roman fort.

If I may backtrack; The area of CrippleGate in the City of London was bombed during WWII. Many lives were lost and most buildings in the area were destroyed completely or were beyond repair.












Coldstream, William Menzies, 1908-1987; Cripplegate

Cripplegate after the blitz painted by William Menzies​ Coldstream

After the war, in the late ’40s and ’50s plans were made to re-build and to repopulate the area. Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were asked to submit plans for the Barbican – they were building the nearby Golden Lane Estate. Construction began on the residential blocks in 1963, the Barbican arts centre followed some time later.

The architects eschewed the label of “Brutalism” for their designs, although there are many elements of Brutalism in the concepts and delivery of the architecture. Their choice of a less than formal Brutalism allowed them the freedom to soften the structure – as in the Conservatory where the use of planted areas soften the raw concrete Fly Tower of the theatre rising from below.

The simple yet effective, startling even, technique of designing the project ‘Inside Out’ as it were, where flats faced inwards on to large courtyard gardens and planted areas, give the whole thing a hidden, secret garden feel. My first thought on entering was “This is not what I expected”. Look at the pictures and judge for yourself.

To an ex-construction surveyor/engineer like myself, this is a polished jewel of craftsmanship. The detailing achieved by the architects pervades from the massive and grand scale of the structure down to the human level where you ‘touch’ excellent craftsmanship and fine (and expensive) detail. These are not buildings where money has been spared.

I won’t bang on about the quality of the concrete work or just how unbelievingly difficult that was to achieve. No matter what you may think ‘concrete is not just concrete’. Yes if it’s structural and is going to be covered you can be less careful about what it looks like but when it’s all exposed like this… just getting the colour consistent is a major problem for the mixing and pouring gangs. What they achieved is no mean feat I can assure you.

“Just getting the colour of the concrete to be consistent throughout the project must have been a major problem”

OK… you may not be interested in the technical aspects of the construction – or how the engineers maintained consistency in the concrete, just don’t take the process for granted. What has been achieved here is a masterpiece in design and execution, a monument to excellence in the ability of the architects and workforce alike. Just stand in the spaces. You will understand.

“Book a tour. It really is worth it.”

As for buying one of these apartments, and I would love to, the ordinary man would have to win the lottery. They are hugely pricey (£1million and up) – though apparently, you can rent, though even to do that is eye-wateringly expensive I understand.


There are a couple of good web sites to see…

1. First, to book your ticket – AND YOU REALLY SHOULD – go here…

2. And if you want to look inside the flats… well, you can’t, not physically anyway, but this excellent site takes you inside some of the flats and meets the residents…

Barbican residents

A visit to the Barbican is a must for anybody interested in post-war design.



The brick building in the near distance is, in fact, a concealed stairwell between the car parks below and the podium level.


The semi-circle design device used again around an outdoor performance area, which is itself the roof of the interior performance area below.


Smooth Terrazo and hand roughened tooled concrete textures in the circulation areas of the Arts Centre.


Subtle, sophisticated detail used in the Terrazo finishes to walls and floors in the men’s toilets


Elements of Brutalism are used in all three towers (one 43 floors and two 42 floors)


The recurring use of the semi-circle reflecting the shape of the old Roman fort


Elements of Brutalism are used in all three towers (one 43 floors and two 42 floors)

I can’t move the sun, and it’s always in the wrong place

I’m going to start this piece by declaring that, at no time in my life have I ever been a trainspotter or engine enthusiast. No, it’s not that particular obsession which feeds my appreciation of the technical ability and art of O. Winston Linkwho?

Ogle Winston Link  (1914 – 2001) was an American photographer, originally from Brooklyn, New York City. Introduced to photography as a boy by his father, Link went on to achieve a degree in Civil Engineering. Whilst at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn he served as ‘photo editor’ for the institutes’ newspaper. He later moved into photography proper.

Link had a longstanding love of railroads (probably resulting from his training as a Civil Engineer), particularly steam, which became sharply focused by the impending conversion of the railroads to Diesel power in the mid-’50s. Link became heavily involved with the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) one of the last steam railroads in America.

Link’s work was self-financed, though he was encouraged by N&W officials from the President of the railroad downward. He had full access to all areas.

However, let’s not dwell too much on the railroad aspect per se, though of course, it is the main subject of his work. No, it is the sheer technical excellence of his work which floored me when I first came across it.

For anyone who has struggled with any form of lighting, even using a simple set up, Link’s work is a majestic tour de force of lighting, it is simply brilliant if you will forgive the pun.
Together with his assistant, he used banks of flash and wiring for light, sometimes dozens of flash heads and bulbs were used to achieve perfect exposures of not only the rolling stock but the environs through which they passed – providing, as he did, social comment in so doing.

The classic image demonstrating his mastery is the image of an engine the “Hotshot Eastbound” taken in a drive-in movie theatre in Virginia.
Screenshot 2019-05-06 at 09.55.19The image is sharp and well lit from the very close foreground to the engine passing in the far distance – and all without ‘blowing out’ the movie screen showing an aircraft. Brilliant.






Screenshot 2019-05-06 at 09.58.12

An interior​ shot of a 1950’s house with people. The internal lighting and the externally lit steam loco in perfect balance.

Asked why he took his pictures at night he said…

“I can’t move the sun — and it’s always in the wrong place — and I can’t even move the tracks, so I had to create my own environment through lighting.”

Links later personal life was ‘unfortunate’ with his 2nd wife being imprisoned for selling his pictures. Nevertheless, Link will be remembered for his mid 50’s nighttime shots showing ‘small town / big steam’ America. An evocative series of images of a time long gone.

For anyone who wishes to see technical excellence coupled with 1950’s social interest then his books are a must – whether you like trains or not they are a joy.

Amazon has some a selection online here…



Skin Heads. Birmingham, ’70’s/’80’s

Recently, I was trying to decide on a picture to put in place at home. Knowing Sue, my wife likes this image I decided on this.

It was taken at Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham in the late ’70s, maybe very early ’80s. It shows two of a group of Skin Heads standing on the Waltzers, a fairground ride at the ‘Tulip Festival’.  Both are wearing tight Levi jeans and ‘Doc Marten’ boots, one with a ‘Ben Sherman’ check shirt and with a ‘Crombie style’ overcoat over. And each, of course with the required shaved head haircut,

Various pins and badges are worn on the lapels, one being a Nazi Swastika. On occasion, wrongly I’ve printed it without the badge. I print it here without any editing – as I believe it should be.
The image portrayed by the skinheads is underlined by the “Love and Hate” tattoo across the knuckles of each hand further enhancing the anarchic, hard man ‘Fuck you’  image they choose to put out.

It is a picture of its time reflecting, as it does on the tribal and cultural mores of the era.

I only wish I had taken more at the time, but, as Tony Kubiak, a photographer friend of mine at the time said…

” It doesn’t matter if you don’t catch an image on camera. You SAW it in your mind’s eye, and that’s what matters”.


Lincoln, 2019.

Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay.

An excellent, even essential,  film over on YouTube, for all those interested in photography. Featuring input by photographic greats of the 20thC.

Link to youtube video:

Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay.


Image credit:
Bill Jay
photograph copyright of Darius Himes, from SoCal PhotoExchange.
The PhotoExchange.

Crucified​ in the market square.

It’s Good Friday. As a Humanist, the religious aspect of this holds little interest for me, I merely observe, but as a photographer, I’m interested in the pageant and the spectacle.

So it was, back in 2003, I visited Market Rasen here in Lincolnshire, to see the annual passion play. Sadly this event hasn’t taken place since 2006 I believe.
(should anybody know different I would love to hear about it)

Here are a few images from the day.