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Things you didn’t know about the Barbican

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the

Barbican – Europe’s largest combined conference and arts venue.

Barbican was built as part of London’s Barbican development and was officially opened in March 1982 by HM Queen Elizabeth. Unlike many other venues, it was specifically built with the dual purpose of holding conferences and arts events and this ensures it remains one of the world’s most creative venues. The Barbican offers business clients a variety of spaces for their event which are capable of holding meetings from 10 to 2,000 delegates.

To mark its 30th anniversary, Barbican is celebrating with a series of events. And to commemorate the occasion it has identified 30 interesting and unusual facts about the Centre and special moments in its history.

Barbican Business Events general manager Anthony Hyde comments: “On the 30th anniversary of the Barbican we have compiled a list of 30 facts about the Centre and its surrounding area – facts which highlight the venue’s history and tell visitors more about this fantastic venue.  The Barbican has gone from strength to strength and with new spaces and initiatives being launched to help the Centre’s corporate business offering we look forward to seeing what the next 30 years bring.”

Facts and figures

1.    The final cost of building the Centre was £156 million; to build it again today would require £500 million.

2.    The Barbican’s lorry lift is able to carry up to 40 tonnes down into the bowels of the Theatre.

3.    The total floor area of the Centre measures over 20 acres.

4.    The Barbican’s deepest point in Cinema 1 lies 73 feet below street level at Silk Street.

5.    Barbican contains 130,000 cubic metres of concrete, enough to build over 19 miles of a six-lane motorway.

6.    There are 75 miles of pipe work, enough to stretch one and a half times round the North and South Circular Roads.

7.    The Hall stage can hold an orchestra of up to 110 players and when the forestage is extended, a chorus of up to 200.

Did you know?

8.    The area derives its name from the Saxon words ‘burgh kennin’ meaning ‘postern tower’, or from the Latin ‘barbecana’, a fortification.

9.    The rough concrete around the Centre was done by hand-held drills, even on the tower balcony exteriors.

10.    Fifteen metres below the lakeside, you’ll find the Circle and Hammersmith & City tube lines.

11.    At one stage during construction, it was proposed that the entire Barbican estate be covered in white marble tiles.

12.    When you sit in the Concert Hall stalls or walk through the stalls foyers, you are above an engineering machine room the size of a football pitch.

13.    In the Conservatory aviary, you’ll find chestnut, green singing and star finches, Java sparrows, diamond doves and Japanese quails.

Barbican building

14.    HM The Queen described the Barbican at its opening as ‘one of the wonders of the modern world’.

15.    Barbican became a Grade-II listed building because of the coherence of design across the 35 acre site.

16.    When the Centre was excavated to a level below the towers, a three metre thick concrete reinforcing wall was put in to stop the towers falling. This now makes up one side of The Curve gallery.

17.    The three residential towers are amongst London’s tallest and named after William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell and the Earl of Lauderdale.

18.    The Barbican Conservatory was originally designed to hide the Theatre fly tower.

19.    There are reports of a Barbican ghost in The Pit theatre, a former plague pit found during construction of the building.

And finally……..

20.    An acclaimed violinist once fell over after a concert, smashing his $1million Stradivarius violin.

Barbican History in a snapshot

21.    1940 In a single December night, the German Luftwaffe destroys the maze of small streets and warehouses in the area where the Barbican now stands.

22.    1944 The Greater London Plan envisages people commuting into the city from the leafier suburbs and the Barbican area is earmarked for commercial use.

23.    1952-56 Proposals for redeveloping the Barbican site are submitted to the Corporation of the City of London.

24.    1959 The Corporation selects a scheme by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon for a mainly residential neighbourhood and designs for an arts centre featuring a concert hall and theatre.

25.    1962 Construction of the residential complex begins.

26.    1971 The City’s Court of Common Council holds its longest sitting on record to decide whether to proceed with the arts centre, which is finally approved. In October, construction work begins.

27.    1982 The Barbican Centre is opened by HM The Queen on 3 March.

28.    2001 The Barbican Hall undergoes a £7 million acoustic and aesthetic refurbishment. The Estate, including the Centre, is listed Grade II for its ‘special architectural interest, its scale, plan and cohesion’.

29.    2006 A three year £14million scheme to redevelop the Centre’s foyers and entrances is completed.

30.    2012 The Barbican celebrates its 30th birthday. From September, Cinemas Two and Three will open. They will form part of the new cultural quarter in the heart of the City of London, along with the building at Milton Court.

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