Concrete love

September 20, 2018

It is a matter of professional necessity that we take an interest in the form and materials of planters, due to the amount of work that we undertake in urban sites, where the soil environment is often restricted and disconnected from the ground itself. Quite apart from any mandatory interest, we also have a fascination with concrete and the possibilities that it brings for fabrication of distinctive (and durable) planters where projects permit.

Brutalism is practically synonymous with concrete construction, as built into its name, which refers to raw (brut) concrete – although (as evidenced at the Barbican) other materials of a very solid nature (such as brick) are also associated with this style of architecture.

At the Barbican, I was interested to see the specification of modular concrete planters (in an arrangement employed elsewhere within other projects of a similar period) in a number of permutations – which varied in terms of the concrete finish and dimensions. The circular form of these units permits them to float within spaces, and to have a degree of flexibility to how they are composed.

Walking on the publicly-accessible, upper walkway, one gains a good vantage point to observe the remarkable series of gardens and massive pools within the centre of the main housing area – structures that seem to belong much more to the imagination than a straightforward response to the provision of public space.

One’s perception of the mass of the buildings (and of one’s own position within this built environment) is affected by the playful way in which massive supporting columns descend into water (disconnecting these psychologically from their foundations, and thereby liberating them from some of their weight).

The placement of paths within (and below) the surface of the large body of water generates a similar effect on one’s perception – once again decreasing the sense of heaviness associated with what might have registered as an aggregation of massive architectural objects (and which instead becomes an environment).

Many concrete surfaces on the Barbican are characterised by the texture shown below, which is finished through bush-hammering. This gives the concrete a hewn quality (like stone) that contributes further to the Barbican’s raw character (and sense of permanence).