Welcome to the Barbican sketchbook. Here you can see how the Barbican illustration was created from original photo to final print. You'll also find out some more about the building itself and its history.

The Barbican Estate

The Barbican Estate was built during the 1960s and 70s in an area of central London that had been almost completely destroyed by World War II bombings. Like the Trellick Tower it's prominent example of brutalist architecture.


The area were the Barbican stands today was already in use during Roman times. It formed a part of the London Wall and surviving examples of the wall can still be found within the Barbican Estate. The name comes from Barbecana, which means fortification in low latin. Later it became the overcrowded inner-city slum Cripplegate. In the 1850s around 14 000 people were living in the area now occupied by the Barbican.


During the Second World War the Cripplegate area was pretty much completely destroyed. By 1951 the resident population of the City stood at around 5000, only 48 of them lived in Cripplegate. A year later the city started discussing the future of the area and on September 19 1957 the Court of Common Council decided to build new residential properties. Today “Cripplegate” is the most populous of all the districts in the City of London.

Ambitious architects

The Barbican complex was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who had already completed the Golden Lane Estate nearby. Before then they worked at Kingston Polytechnic and all put in entries for the design of the Golden Lane Estate. Powell won the competition and the three set up their own architectural firm.

The design of the Barbican

The estate consists of 13 terrace blocks grouped around a lake and green squares. The three main buildings rise up to seven floors above the podium level, which links all the facilities in the Barbican. The three towers are the Cromwell Tower, named after Oliver Cromwell, the Shakespeare Tower (which is the one you can see on our illustration), named after William Shakespeare, and the Lauderdale Tower, named after the Earl of Lauderdale. These three famous men all had local connections.

Originally the exterior of the buildings were to be clad in polished concrete or white marble. The final finish was a money saving measure. The design is supposedly based on Venice, with the canals separated from walkways.

The reason for building upward was planning requirements in the City of London, as the London County Council had insisted on a certain amount of open space for each resident the only option was to build up. When the towers were finished they were the tallest residential structures in Europe.

Our illustration

Here you've been able to see our design process of the Barbican print. First Gerry starts out with taking a photo of the building he's interested in. After that it's all about finding the right image and the right angle. Then the illustrating begins. As you can see the Barbican has been painstakingly traced on a computer. Finally it's important to pick the right colours. As you can see above it takes a bit of experimentation to get it right.

The final version of the Barbican is available as a the t-shirt in white and grey, a sweatshirt and as a signed and numbered silk screen print.

How to get to the Barbican

Silk Street London , EC2Y 8DS

The closest tube stations are the Barbican, St Paul's and Moorgate. Bus Route 153 runs directly past the Barbican along Chiswell Street.