The Barbican estate, an iconic Sixties residential quarter in the heart of the Square Mile, is home to about half the City’s residents, from walk-to-work financiers, to families and empty nesters.
And they are all in on the secret - behind its concrete exterior are 40 acres of prime central London real estate, more than 2,000 homes, and a surprising urban oasis with central landscaped gardens, a lake, its own school and church, and a concert hall and an arts complex on the doorstep.
'Once you get inside the Barbican it's like a pure oasis in the heart of the City with an abundance of wildlife'
With trendy shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants opening for longer hours, the City has emerged as a rival to the West End, attracting crowds of shoppers and tourists, and giving it appeal to young buyers, families and downsizers returning to live in central London.
The Barbican was originally designed as a small, walled town and on its completion in the Seventies it was essentially a council housing estate. Now, most homes are privately owned.
The Barbican buildings - often referred to as an example of “brutalist architecture” - are becoming more fashionable thanks to a retro revival among fashion and design sectors. Although the building exteriors are listed, owners are free to refurbish interiors, and even have access to a Barbican “salvage store”, where original fixtures and fittings, including door handles and taps, are offered at minimal cost.
Marco Fugaccia, sales manager at Hurford Salvi Carr, has worked in this area for six years, and says: “most people buy here to live, not to rent; I call it the nesting effect. Once people move into the Barbican they can have a whole life-span here, upsizing and downsizing.”
Families choose to sacrifice extra space to have all the facilities of central London on their doorstep. Most don’t need a car, there is a low crime rate and a real sense of community.
“People who know the Barbican absolutely love living there, it’s almost like a magnet. Walkways are always extremely well lit and many homes overlook a garden, a lake or St. Giles Church. Once you get inside it’s like a pure oasis in the heart of the City with an abundance of wildlife. At the moment the ducks are arriving and nesting, there are herons about, and huge fish in the lake,” says Fugaccia.
Insider lowdown: Marco Fugaccia, Hurford Salvi Carr
What types of properties are typical to the area?
The apartments in the Barbican are known as types - this relates to their style and layout. The buildings are connected to well-known historical figures, such as Shakespeare Tower, Willoughby House and Thomas Moore House.
In total, there are 21 residential buildings, including the sympathetic conversion of Frobisher Crescent, where 69 new homes on the top three levels were added over the past three years. There are three 42-storey towers: Cromwell Tower, Shakespeare Tower and Lauderdale Tower, all over 400 ft high, with penthouse flats on the top three floors offering fabulous views across the London skyline.
The majority of apartments within the Barbican estate tend to be one- or two-bedroom flats that are often used as weekday crashpads for people with a country home. They are also popular with investors.
What types of buyers are attracted to the area?
The Barbican is a well-loved and sought-after development for many reasons. Its brutalist Fifties-style, inspired by such architects as Le Corbusier, has always attracted a creative market - architects, designers, musicians, university professors and lecturers. Its convenience and location also attracts walk-to-work City workers in the financial and legal sectors who can get to their offices in minutes.
Where are the ‘hottest’ properties?
The buildings within the Barbican itself continue to be the most popular. Flats with views over the lake and gardens, such as those in Gilbert House, as well as south-west facing balconies, are the most sought after.
Barbican fanatics love the incredible view from apartments in the tower blocks. From the 15th floor and above you can see over St Paul’s, the Gherkin, Tower 42, the Shard, the Docklands and Canary Wharf. And west-facing apartments get to take in amazing sunsets.
Where are the "hidden gems"?
The Barbican development is a hidden gem. One great advantage is that the Barbican itself has no road running through it so although you are in the centre of the City, once in the gardens or relaxing by the lake you could be in the middle of the country. There are some great shops, restaurants and supermarkets close by in Whitecross Street, Long Lane and Charterhouse Street and two Underground Stations at Barbican and Moorgate.
What are the best investment opportunities?
Tight supply of City homes means that properties here make sound investments and values are lower than in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster. Barbican apartments sell and rent very quickly; there is never a large selection available at one time and even if they do not give the best yield of City apartments, this is outweighed by the capital growth they produce. Studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments are most popular with buy-to-let investors as they make very popular rentals.
How is local parking?
The Barbican has a selection of underground car parks where parking spaces can be bought or rented from the Corporation of London. There are no parking permits issued by the Corporation but you can apply to them for parking in one of their designated car parks.
What are service charges in the area like?
The service charges within the Barbican are based on a pro-rata size basis, so a typical 720sq ft apartment in Ben Jonson House would cost about £2,800 per annum including cleaning and maintenance of all shared areas and gardens, waste disposal and heating from a communal system.
What are your favourite viewings to show potential buyers?
With many applicants who buy in the Barbican already living there, I am usually told far more about the best building to buy in by them; otherwise it is always a pleasure to show applicants around the garden areas and the lake, and walk them past the Guildhall School of Music.
Where would you buy in the area?
If price wasn’t an issue I would be happy to have a flat in Gilbert House, Barbican, facing south-west over the lake.