New homes in the City: from the Barbican's brutalist architecture to the Square Mile's biggest new homes development at Barts Square

Hundreds of new flats are on their way to the Barbican. Lovers of brutalist architecture have a treat in store, but demand is high so you'll have to start queuing now...

The Barbican Estate has long been hot property. November's launch of 74 flats in a former YMCA hostel, part of the brutalist complex, will excite not just lovers of concrete architecture, but also a growing number of people who want a home within the City’s ancient walls.

Commuting hassles and London’s long working hours culture are boosting demand at a time when the Square Mile is becoming a more established place to live, with shops, restaurants, bars and even clubs, which stay open late and at weekends.



Royal Exchange, with its fashion boutiques, has many of the Old Bond Street brands, while One New Change is a “mini-Westfield”, a shopping mall with a vast public roof garden looking over majestic St Paul’s Cathedral.

Yet in housing terms, as in virtually every other respect, the City is different to the rest of London.

While residents elsewhere in the capital agonise over the performance of local schools or the impact of a new Tube line, in the rarefied air of the City, other things matter. Bonuses are a regular talking point, and in a confined district where there are relatively few property sales, fat pay cheques can keep the local property market alive even when the stock market is lacklustre. 

City living
Tight supply makes City homes sound investments. Traditionally, the City’s custodians have been unenthusiastic about residential development, judging it a brake on office-building in this leading global financial centre.

Planners are still pushing for modern high-rise offices to halt the defection of banks and law firms to Canary Wharf, and an important conference next month will discuss ways of “future-proofing the Square Mile”, starting with 10 new skyscrapers, accommodating some 50,000 additional jobs.

But there has been a subtle shift in policy to boost the residential population, currently about 10,000, though still far fewer than the 75,000 people who lived there at the end of the 19th century. Planners are promoting mixed-use buildings and increasing the supply of homes outside the core banking zone, towards Aldgate and Spitalfields in the east, and Fleet Street and Chancery Lane in the west, where the Corporation’s jurisdiction reaches (see below).


From £730,000: the Barbican's former YMCA has become an apartment block, Blake Tower, retaining its brutalist exterior, but with the interiors remodelled. Call 020 3538 3719.

Affordable outposts 
The City is also embarking on a major housebuilding programme at sites and estates it owns in cheaper parts of London in an attempt to ease what employers say is the biggest challenge they face: affordable housing for lower-paid staff. 

Mark Boleat, chairman of the Corporation’s policy and resources committee, says: “I regularly hear from City businesses that high housing costs are reducing the competitiveness of London as a place to locate — a Londoner needs to be able to afford a home. It is not a densely occupied city; there is significant potential to build more housing units — infill — on existing housing estates.”

The Barbican’s former YMCA hostel has been renamed Blake Tower by developer Redrow. The building’s stern concrete exterior will remain largely intact, but internally the building is being reconfigured, with flats ranging in size from 450 sq ft to 2,000 sq ft. While every apartment will retain an original bush-hammered concrete hallway wall, Conran & Partners, the designers, have opted for a softer mix of white surfaces, bespoke joinery, concealed lighting, brass and terrazzo fittings and fixtures. Two penthouses will have wraparound terraces. Prices from £730,000. Call 020 3538 3719.

Blake Tower’s freshly modernised apartments arguably offer the best of both worlds, and could be more coveted than older, tired-looking  Barbican flats with original kitchens and bathrooms. Owners of these older  flats are free to refurbish, but need permission for structural changes such as knocking down walls to make the open-plan spaces popular with today’s buyers.

Concrete appeal
While the coarse concrete architecture of the Barbican has its critics, a younger generation has emerged that loves the estate and its brutalist architecture, according to Tina Evans, of estate agent Frank Harris.

“The Barbican has personality and whatever you think about the architecture, it works as a place to live, because it has everything that people want.” Prices range from £750,000 to more than £4 million.

Created out of the ruins of a Second World War bomb site, Barbican covers 40 acres smack bang in the middle of the Square Mile and has 2,113 homes — about 4,000 people, almost half the City’s residential population. Remarkably, there are more than 100 different property types — ranging from studios to spectacular penthouses and five-storey houses. 

In total, there are 21 blocks and four towers, rising to 42 storeys, plus an art gallery, theatre and cinema complex, conservatory, planted terraces, children’s play park, storage areas and underground parking.

Designed as a small walled town, echoing the old Roman city, it was an upmarket council estate, where homes were rented to “City professionals” and key workers, which at the time included barristers and bankers, as well as postmen and milkmen.

From £815,000: Barts Square is the biggest new homes development in the City. Call 020 3355 8522

Today, 94 per cent of homes on the estate are privately owned, many by people who are enthusiatic about the estate. As a result, a strong sense of community has emerged. A local parents’ group says about 250 families live at the Barbican, while residents’ website is a neighbourhood internet forum.

A bonus for City residents is the low level of street crime and anti-social behaviour. The Corporation’s emphasis on business means the area is a clean and safe place to live. There is even a low-profile “ring of steel” —police sentry points at various access roads — a modern version of the perimeter wall and gates of the medieval City. 

Barts Square is currently the biggest new homes project in the City. This redevelopment of the historic hospital complex next to Smithfield Market is bringing 235 new homes priced from £815,000. Call Savills on 020 7726 8995. And former maritime insurance offices at St Mary at Hill have been transformed into 10 flats, priced from £820,000. Call Galliard on 020 3355 8522.

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