Barbican Centre Lobby

Barbican Centre Lobby

Barbican Centre Interior

Barbican Centre Interior


The Barbican Centre is a performing arts centre in the City of London and the largest of its kind in Europe. The Centre hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. It also houses a library, three restaurants, and a conservatory. The Barbican Centre is a member of the Global Cultural Districts Network.

The London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra are based in the Centre's Concert Hall. In 2013, it once again became the London-based venue of the Royal Shakespeare Company following the company's departure in 2001.

The Barbican Centre is owned, funded, and managed by the City of London Corporation, the third-largest arts funder in the United Kingdom. It was built as The City's gift to the nation at a cost of £161 million and was officially opened to the public by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 March 1982. The Barbican Centre is also known for its brutalist architecture.

The pricipal components are - Barbican Hall: capacity 1,943; home of the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra; Barbican Theatre: capacity 1,156; designed exclusively by and for the Royal Shakespeare Company; The Pit: a flexible 200-seat theatre venue; Barbican Art Gallery and the free new-commission gallery The Curve; Barbican Film: 3 cinema screens with seating capacity of 288, 156 and 156; Barbican Library: Public library with special collections in arts and music.

The second-floor library is one of the five City of London libraries. It is one of the largest public libraries in London and has a separate arts library, a large music library and a children's library which regularly conducts free events. The Barbican Library houses the 'London Collection' of historical books and resources, some of which date back 300 years, all being available on loan. The library presents regular literary events and has an art exhibition space for hire. The music library has two free practice pianos for public use.

The Barbican Centre had a long development period, only opening long after the surrounding Barbican Estate housing complex had been built. It is situated in an area which was badly bombed during World War II.

The Barbican Centre, designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in the Brutalist style, has a complex multi-level layout with numerous entrances. Lines painted on the ground help would-be audience members avoid getting lost on the walkways of the Barbican Housing Estate on the way to the centre. The Barbican Centre's design – a concrete ziggurat – has always been controversial and divides opinion. It was voted "London's ugliest building" in a Grey London poll in September 2003.

In September 2001, arts minister Tessa Blackstone announced that the Barbican Centre complex was to be a Grade II listed building. It has been designated a site of special architectural interest for its scale, its cohesion and the ambition of the project. The same architectural practice also designed the Barbican Housing Estate and the nearby Golden Lane Estate. Project architect John Honer later worked on the British Library at St Pancras – a red brick ziggurat.

In the mid-1990s, a cosmetic improvement scheme by Theo Crosby, of the Pentagram design studio, added statues and decorative features reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement. In 2005-2006, the centre underwent a more significant refurbishment, designed by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, which improved circulation and introduced bold signage in a style in keeping with the centre's original 1970s Brutalist architecture. That improvement scheme added an internal bridge linking the Silk Street foyer area with the lakeside foyer area. The centre's Silk Street entrance, previously dominated by an access for vehicles, was modified to give better pedestrian access. The scheme included removing most of the mid-1990s embellishments.

Outside, the main focal point of the centre is the lake and its neighbouring terrace. The theatre's fly tower has been surrounded by glass and made into a high-level conservatory. The Barbican Hall's acoustic has also been controversial: some praised it as attractively warm, but others found it too dry for large-scale orchestral performance.

In 1994, Chicago acoustician Larry Kirkegaard oversaw a £500,000 acoustic re-engineering of the hall "producing a perceptible improvement in echo control and sound absorption", music critic Norman Lebrecht wrote in October 2000 – and returned in 2001 to rip out the stage canopy and drop the adjustable acoustic reflectors, designed by Caruso St John, from the ceiling, as part of a £7.5 mn refurbishment of the hall. Art music magazine Gramophone still complained about "the relative dryness of the Barbican acoustic" in August 2007.

The theatre was built as the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was involved in the design, but decided not to renew its contract in 2002 after claiming a lack of performing space, plus the artistic director, Adrian Noble, wanting to develop the company's touring performances. The theatre's response was to extend its existing six-month season of international productions, "Barbican International Theatre Event", to the whole year. On 23 January 2013 Greg Doran, RSC artistic director, announced the Company's return to the Barbican Centre in a three-year season of Shakespeare's history plays.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where the Barbican Centre theatrical performances are occasionally staged, and the City of London's Barbican Library, neither part of the centre, are also on the site. The Museum of London is nearby at Aldersgate, and is also within the Barbican Estate.

The current Royal Shakespeare Company productions at the Barbican Theatre, until 20th January 2018, are 'Titus Andronicus' and 'Antony and Cleopatra'.

Their cinema access screening include both audio description and captioned film in the same screening, unless stated otherwise. Audio described film is provided for those with a visual impairment. The film soundtrack comes through the speakers in the usual way and a recorded narrator explains what is happening on screen through personal headphones.

Open captioning is provided for those with a hearing impairment and is similar to subtitling, where the dialogue is written in text at the bottom of the screen. Captioning also includes text description of significant sound effects, such as gun shot. For audio description headphones, please contact a member of Barbican staff on arrival. Barbican Film provides captioning/audio description using the Dolby Screentalk system.

Captioned events include: Royal Shakespeare Company's Antony & Cleopatra, Mon 8 Jan, 7.15pm; Royal Shakespeare Company's Titus Andronicus, Fri 29 Dec, 7.15pm; Complicité/Simon McBurney - The Encounter, Thu 3 May, 7.30pm; Barry Humphries' Weimar Cabaret, Thu 26 Jul, 7.45pm.

Audio-described productions include: Royal Shakespeare Company's Antony & Cleopatra, Mon 8 Jan, 7.15pm; Royal Shakespeare Company's Titus Andronicus, Fri 29 Dec, 7.15pm; Malthouse Theatre/Black Swan State Theatre Company - Picnic at Hanging Rock, Sat 24 Feb, Audio-described (2.30pm) and touch tour begins at 1pm; Complicité/Simon McBurney - The Encounter Thu 3 May, 7.30pm. Visually-impaired customers please note there is no audio description available for this production because The Encounter is presented through individual headsets using innovative binaural sound technology. The performer evokes a strong sense of the storytelling and setting through each audience member’s personal headphones, so although there is a visual element to this production, it can still be enjoyed by visually-impaired customers.

A Changing Places facility is located within the Beech Street Cinema complex for the exclusive use of severely disabled people who need personal assistance to use the toilet. The facility includes a height adjustable bench, tracking hoist system, a centrally placed toilet, a height adjustable basin and a shower. The facility is open 8am–10:30pm Monday–Friday and 10am–10:30pm at weekends and public holidays.

The following is a list of accessible toilets available at the Barbican Centre (Silk Street) and Beech Street cinemas. Many of the toilets have double door entry (some single door) with automated push panel open and close controls and with a swipe lock and unlock door mechanism. Some doors are not automated requiring them to be opened, closed and locked manually. Priority is given to disabled people using these toilets.

Conference floor (behind Reception) level 4 - Nearest for Cinemas 2 and 3 and Conference Rooms. Right hand transfer. Size 160cm x 132cm. In this small toilet, some wheelchair users may find difficulty turning. Gallery floor (outside the Art Gallery) level 3 - Nearest for Art Gallery, Conservatory, Sculpture Court. Left hand transfer. Size 197cm x 167cm. Library floor (off Frobisher Crescent) level 2 - Nearest for Library. Right hand transfer. Size 150cm x 173cm. In this small toilet, some wheelchair users may find difficulty turning.

Balcony floor (between doors 9 & 10) level 1 - Nearest for balcony of the Concert Hall. Right hand transfer. Size 252cm x 144cm. Ground floor level G - Nearest for Doors 6, 7 & 8 of the Hall. Left hand transfer. Size 224cm x 142cm. Stalls floor (to the left of the Cloakroom) level -1 - Nearest for Concert Hall, Ground floor foyer, The Curve. Right and left hand transfer. Size 218cm x 202cm.

Pit floor (off the foyer) level -2 - Nearest for Cinema 1 and Pit Theatre. Right hand transfer. Size 152cm x 237cm. Theatre (Mezzanine floor) - Two toilets, available during Theatre performances only. Reached by a lift (93cm x 166cm). Right and left hand transfer. Size 150cm x 162cm. Exhibition Hall 2, Golden Lane - Right and left hand transfer. Sizes vary (minimum dimensions 140cm x 170cm). Cinemas 2 & 3, Beech Street.

The Barbican Centre is signposted on all main roads into the City. The car parks are off Silk Street and off Beech Street (westbound access only). There is a headroom restriction of 1.85m. All car parks stay open until midnight. The easiest access into the Barbican is from Car Park 3 or Car Park 5, both of which have blue badge parking bays. An accessible ramped entrance into level G foyer from Car Park 5 is available.

Car Park 3 and Car Park 5 provide flat access into the Centre on levels minus 1 and G respectively. There are 7 accessible bays in Car Park 3 and 6 accessible bays in Car Park 5. These are the two most accessible car parks. Blue badge holders may reserve a wide parking bay in Car Park 3 or Car Park 5, subject to availability. Bookings can be made between 9am and 8pm Monday to Friday on 020 7638 8891. Your vehicle registration number and the date and time of your booking will appear on the display stand notice located at your reserved parking bay. Please note: 24 hours’ notice must be given and bookings can be made up to 3 months in advance.


Location : Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS

Transport: Liverpool Street (National Rail). Barbican (Metropolitan Line, Circle Line) 4 minutes, St. Pauls (Central Line) 6 minutes. London Buses routes 153 stops outside.

Access Line : 020 7382 7348

Audio Guide.

Tel: 020 7638 8891