Opened in 1982, London’s Barbican Centre is the largest cultural and artistic conference centre in Europe and is home to many notable orchestras, theatres, art galleries, cinemas, and libraries. The grounds upon which it stands were almost completely destroyed in the Second World War. Starting in the 1960s, housing blocks were constructed here that were long connected to the negative image of Brutalism, but have since become much-sought-after real estate.
In a 30-day project, documentary filmmakers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine trace the soul of the area, create a portrait of its residents and visitors, discover wild plants and animals, and record in impressive architectural footage its use of forms, visual axes, and details. They look out from the top, peek around in the basement, visually consider the structure vertically and horizontally, in the early morning and at night.
Even though a psychologist living in the Barbican warns the filmmakers that the residents will surely not give away all the complex’s secrets, Bêka and Lemoine manage quite well in numerous vignettes to get a sense of the soul behind the concrete. And they succeed in lending both a grace and an aura to its architecture. When a pensioner rolls into the Barbican on his mobility scooter to the sounds of a waltz, or a skater glides along the asphalt to the sounds of a Strauss march, Brutalism seems to have a rather breezy side.
Ila Bêka, Louise Lemoine
Ila Bêka trained as an architect with a degree from the IUAV of Venice and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Paris-Belleville. He lives and works as an artist and filmmaker in Paris. Louise Lemoine graduated in Cinema and Philosophy from the Sorbonne, Paris. In their documentaries on contemporary architecture, Bêka & Lemoine experiment with new narrative and cinematographic forms and are known for their creative and humoristic look at masterpieces of architecture. They were recently named “cult figures in the European architecture world” by The New York Times. Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine have been teaching at Columbia University (New York-Paris programme) since 2013.