Allies and Morrison and Asif Khan Studio tapped for Barbican Centre revamp

In The Can

Allies and Morrison and Asif Khan Studio tapped for Barbican Centre revamp

Sculpture Court at the Barbican Centre. (Max Colson/Courtesy Barbican Centre)

Allies and Morrison and Asif Khan Studio have been selected to lead a multi-million-dollar overhaul of the Barbican Centre, a beloved but aging Brutalist landmark and multidisciplinary arts and cultural hub that anchors a sprawling post-war housing estate of the same name in Central London.

“We are interested in the notion of ‘revealing,’ of finding places of untapped potential within and around the walls of the Barbican,” remarked Simon Fraser, partner at Allies and Morrison, in a press announcement. “Not only will this approach offer substantial savings in embodied carbon, and respect the Centre’s significant heritage value, but it opens a myriad of opportunities for creative, inclusive reinvention.”

The two London-based practices, both boasting a number of high-profile cultural projects under their respective belts including Tate Britain, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Museum of London, triumphed in a closely watched international design competition launched by the City of London Corporation in September 2021. A total of five shortlisted teams—revealed in January—were in the running, with Allies and Morrison and Asif Kahn Studio winning out over Adjaye Associates with Benedetti Architects and PUP Architects; BIG with Avanti Architects and POoR Collective; Diller Scofidio + Renfro with McCloy + Muchemwa, and Purcell; and FCBStudios with Bureau de Change, Schulze+Grassov, and Thinc.

foyer view of a performing arts center
Foyers at Barbican Centre. (Max Colson/Courtesy Barbican Centre)

Joining Allies and Morrison and Asif Khan Studio on the larger project team are heritage experts Alan Baxter Ltd, engineering and sustainability consultancy Buro Happold, theatre, acoustic, and digital design consultancy Charcoalblue; lighting design firm les éclaireurs,  and Oakland, California–based art, urbanism, and landscape architecture practice Hood Design Studio. Also on the team are artistic advisors Julien and Nadia Fall.

“The team showed total commitment to preserving the Barbican Centre building as a much-loved global icon, while ensuring it remains a leading creative centre for generations to come,” said Tom Sleigh, chair of the City of London Corporation’s Barbican Centre Board. “We’re delighted to have this world-class design team working with us to help deliver our creative vision, while also making major improvements to the Barbican’s environmental performance.”

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape the future of this iconic centre for arts and learning, and strengthen its ability to play a leading role in the recovery of the City, and the capital, from the pandemic,” he added.

All shortlisted proposals were evaluated by a panel of “external specialists in equity, diversity and inclusion, and heritage and sustainability” who were joined by representatives from the City Corporation and members of its Barbican Centre Board as well as senior Barbican Centre staff.

The panelists were:

  • Yẹmí Aládérun, architect and development manager, Meridian Water, Co-Founder PARADIGM Network
  • Lisa Burger CBE, Former Joint Chief Executive, National Theatre
  • Margot Heller OBE, Director, South London Gallery
  • Dr. Judit Kimpian, architect and environmental design expert
  • Dr. Neal Shasore, Chief Executive and Head of School, London School of Architecture and Trustee, The Twentieth Century Society
view of a terrace at a london cultural center
Lakeside Terrace at the Barbican Centre. (Max Colson/Courtesy Barbican Centre)

As previously reported by AN, the scope of the Barbican Renewal Project, estimated to cost in the range of $68 to $204 million (£50 to £150 million), will entail “upgrading venues, bringing underused spaces back to life, and improving the welcome, wayfinding and digital technology at the site, reflecting the energy of London’s many communities and the Barbican Centre’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” per the City Corporation. As mentioned in the above quotes from Sleigh and Allies and Morrison’s Simon Fraser, sustainability-minded fixes will play a prominent role in the exhaustive-yet-sensitive refresh of the Grade II-listed structure. The City Corporation has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon status for its own operations by 2027 and its investment and supply chain by 2040 as part of its Climate Action Strategy.

Remarked Asif Khan in a statement:

“My dad first brought me to the Barbican just after it opened to the public in 1982. From those early visits as a two-year-old we would spend countless Sundays enjoying the free programme and public spaces. For him, the lake was a reminder of the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. For me it has always felt like home and has been a constant presence in my life. Who would imagine that exactly forty years later there would be an opportunity to contribute towards its future? Amazing things happen like that in this city.

“This renewal project will care for the things we all love about the place, solving parts which could have been better, but most importantly helping to open up the Barbican to London and Londoners in ways that couldn’t be imagined before. The incredible team we have assembled to bring about this change are embarking on this journey with great excitement and dedication to the vision for the Barbican’s new life.”

With the winning team now announced, its vision will further be refined and developed with “extensive engagement” from Barbican stakeholders. The full design brief can be viewed here.

AN will report back when that vision is made public.