For our new series 'Iconic Buildings' we speak to people who live or work in buildings of architectural significance. Is their exposure to an architectural wonder on a daily basis a source of inspiration or simply part of the backdrop?
This time we talk to Lotte Johnson, Assistant Curator at the Barbican Centre.
What is your role at the Barbican?
I am Assistant Curator for the Barbican Art Gallery. I work on researching and putting together exhibitions in our main gallery and the Curve. Recently I curated a new commission by Bedwyr Williams for the Curve and I am currently working on our upcoming Basquiat exhibition in the main gallery.
How long have you worked at the Barbican?
I’ve been here for just over two years.
Did the building influence your decision when accepting the job? Do you enjoy working in an iconic London building?
Absolutely. First and foremost I was drawn to the job because of the art gallery's exciting exhibition programme, and the Barbican's strength as a multi-arts venue, but the building itself certainly played a part in my decision. In many ways the architecture of the centre is inextricable from what goes on inside it. I grew up in London and have memories of visiting the Barbican as a child, coming to concerts with my family. I remember it as an overpowering brutalist fortress that was somehow at the same time warm and welcoming, full of interesting sights and sounds - I still feel the same way!
What do you like most about the Barbican? Do you like the architectural design of the building?
I love the design of the building. The architecture communicates the utopian spirit that the centre was conceived with, and this spirit extends into our programming. I'm in awe of all the beautiful hammered concrete surfaces, which were chiselled by hand and perhaps influenced by Le Corbusier's use of rough concrete. One of my favourite architectural features of the Barbican is in the theatre. Just before the lights go down and the curtain comes up, all of the doors into the theatre stalls close simultaneously - it's a wonderful choreographed moment.
Do you have a favourite lunch spot?
My favourite lunch spot is in the middle of Beech Gardens on the highwalks. It was fairly recently replanted by Nigel Dunnett (who designed the planting for the Olympic Park) and seems to change according to the seasons. There's a lovely hidden bench in the middle of the raised beds, beside a small pool of water. It’s a strange wild floral sanctuary within the Barbican.
What time of year do you most enjoy the Barbican?
Spring. Sunlight infiltrates the centre, casting amazing shadows and throwing the textured concrete surfaces into relief.
How does the building affect your job?
Walking through the centre every day, there's always so much going on - it gives you energy. The building itself defines my job, as every day involves thinking about how to configure ideas and exhibitions for the spaces of the art gallery and the Curve.
Is there anything you don’t like about the building?
The lifts! They’re rather temperamental so I’ve resorted to taking the stairs, which is no bad thing as you get an amazing triangular view up through the floors of Frobisher Crescent as you walk up to our office.
If you left your job what would you miss most bout the Barbican?
I would miss the people and the building itself, as well as the fact that it’s one of the only places where you can visit an exhibition, watch a film, go to a concert and see a play all under one roof!
The Barbican is a Grade II listed building designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, opened in 1982. The largest multi-arts and conference venue in Europe the centre hosts art exhibitions, theatre performances, films screening, and classical and contempoarry music concerts as well as - housing a library, three restaurants and a conservatory.
Built some years after the Barbican estate, in an area heavily bombed during World War II it is now considered a London landmark and one of best examples of Brutalist architecture.
The site has since undergone significant refurbishment by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris including; new signage, an internal bridge linking Silk Street foyer area and lakeside foyer area and the conservatory.
Ellen Hancock studied Fine Art and History of Art at The University of Leeds and Sculpture at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul.Now based in London she has a keen interest in travel, literature, interactive art and social architecture.