My Modern House: editor and writer Tom Morris' Brutalist flat on the Barbican Estate

tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism
tom morris barbican brutalism

“I’ve had a fascination with Brutalism ever since I was at school. I was brought up in Hampshire and we would regularly drive past the famously bonkers concrete Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth, designed by Owen and Rodney Gordon in the mid-1960s.

“Its weird geometry and bad angles were so extraordinary that it made the Barbican look subtle by comparison. Sadly it was knocked down around the time I left school.

“I visited the Barbican centre for years before moving here, but was always slightly oblivious to the fact that there were flats above that big tunnel I would walk through to it. When I was house hunting, I came to see an exhibition here and got lost near the gardens and suddenly began to think about what it would be like to live here.

“I moved to London for university and always lived north – around Chalk Farm, Primrose Hill and Camden.

“Moving to the Barbican was quite a change from the leafy neighbourhoods there and the big buildings, concrete, roads and central location took some getting used to. When I go and see friends in other parts of town now, I find it strange seeing front doors and gardens – everything looks like toy town compared to the scale of architecture here.

“From my living room, I can see buildings by Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and one of the first office tower blocks in London – a sort of Mies van der Rohe-looking thing – and there’s St Pauls plonked right in the middle of it all.

“It can be strange here at the weekend, being butted up against all the office blocks, but it also means that it’s so peaceful and quiet. I open my door on a Sunday morning and can hear birds, the bells of St Pauls ringing and residents playing tennis in the courts downstairs. I even have the occasional duck visiting from the Barbican lake; it can have the soundtrack of living in the countryside, and then you look up.

“Sadly, there’s an endless churn of building work all around the estate but when you live in the City of London, you just get used to the fact that nothing stays the same.

“Every time you go downstairs another building is being knocked down or developed. Except for the Barbican, that is, which stands like a fortress against all the change. This year marks 50 years since the first residents moved in, and still, there’s nothing else like it.

“All residents of the Barbican are given a special key that unlocks all the private gardens and walkways. I know most people get lost in the Barbican, but it’s very simple once you’ve got the key and worked out all the passages and paths.

“There’s a very strong – and quite proud – sense of community here. The Barbican has a healthy array of neighbours’ clubs and residents’ groups and people look out for each other.

“However, you never feel like you’re living on top of other people. I think the solidity of the building, the fact that it’s made of concrete, gives a sense of quietness and solitude. It’s not brutal at all once you’re inside. I think that’s why it succeeded where so many post-war concrete estates did not: it was very, very considered.

“The architects, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were visionary urban planners and architectural magpies – the more I’ve got to know the Barbican, the cleverer and more measured I’ve realised they were. They pinched ideas from countless conventions in their master plan, from mews houses to park squares, classical cloisters to medieval fortresses, and then simply dunked them all in concrete.

“They were also incredibly generous with the proportions and spatial design of all the flats and managed to make a high-density estate feel spacious inside and out. Mine’s not a huge flat, but things like a wide hallway, separate loo, long sightlines and the big half-moon windows make it feel airy.

“It was a total white box when I bought it, with the original 1970s kitchen and bathroom still intact.

“I often take on interior design projects for clients, alongside writing about design, and have deliberately built this interior up slowly. I like earthy, moody colours and natural materials to counteract all the glass and steel outside.

“It’s full of things I collect on my travels: books, magazines, model aeroplanes and lots of ceramics. I started collecting pottery a few years back and wrote a book, New Wave Clay: Ceramic Design, Art and Architecture, last year. I try to run a one-in-one-out policy on pots, which can be difficult as I also make them. I wouldn’t call myself minimalist, but I think often things need space around them to be properly appreciated.

“I sometimes yearn for a bit more space and some more green around me, but I am very happy here for now. That said, I’ve got my eye on the larger mews houses down overlooking the gardens – maybe that’ll be my next move.”

Looking for your own machine for living? Explore our collection of Brutalist homes

Related stories