Rocking up at the Barbican is always an experience, its concrete towers slicing neatly into the air. I always end up wandering through the godawful underpass to get in, but once you do… The Barbican is an incredible space, and Edgelands is a unique experience that helps visitors truly understand it.
Londoners will know the Barbican as a striking example of brutalist design. While the interior is spectacular, it is probably fair to say that when Le Corbusier was designing futuristic spaces like this, he probably had a mental image of them gleaming in the sun around the Adriatic, rather than hulking in a latitude where the sky usually manages to be blue for about 14 minutes a year.
Inside, the space is jumbled and often confusing (if fascinating). Galleries have hidden staircases. Walls are hammered concrete, and even the level numbers (Minus one, one, ground, gallery) seem to exist to throw off the unwary visitor. But as with many confusing things, there is a purpose behind this chaos, which Edgelands helps to uncover.
Using beacon technology, the Edgelands experience let’s you don a pair of headphones, and wander at your own pace around the Barbican’s central hall. It’s an unusual trip. Usually these things involve a lot of looking at screens and being told that someone put up this wall in 1924. Edgelands is a bit different. While the occasional voice from the past does crop up, detailing the architect’s plans for a ‘liveable precinct’, the majority of time is spent inviting you to consider the various usages of the space in new and interesting ways.
The creator of the piece, Hannah Bruce, mentioned that people need some time to suspend their scepticism, so the introductory piece is a simple spoken greeting, but things start to get weirder as you progress.
Artistic and architectural principles are compared and contrasted. The idea that your mind needs to drive 200 muscles with each step you take is positioned as ideas driving motion through space. I was invited to spend some time standing on a gallery, staring straight at the ceiling lights for a while.
And actually, it does make you realise and appreciate the design. That ceiling is ridiculously low for such a large hall, but the rainbow-tinted lighting against the grey, hammered concrete creates depth and space. What could be a concrete bunker is given the feel of a concert hall.
It’s all rather difficult to explain without actually listening to it, but I urge you to head along and try it out if you can. While most visitors spend time looking for signs and heading straight into the various concert halls to enjoy a show, it’s worth spending some time meandering around and getting lost on purpose, so that you can really appreciate what a unique space the Barbican is.