ExhibReview – The Barbican Exhibition – Chamberlin, Powell & Bon – Barbican Centre, London

Situated on the ground floor in the central lobby of the Barbican Centre, this exhibition focuses on the architects of the Barbican, Joe Chamberlin, Geoffrey Powell and Christof Bon. It presents a range of objects and images, many created by the architects themselves providing a context and insight into the inspiration and wider interest of the three influential figures who designed the Barbican.

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon: Ocean City, United States of America, courtesy of Polly Powell on display at the Barbican Centre.

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon: Ocean City, United States of America, courtesy of Polly Powell on display at the Barbican Centre.

The Barbican project dominated Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s architectural practice for over thirty years and this exhibit cover this whole period. The exhibition is small in scale and situated in the Barbican’s main foyer. It is composed of a series of glass cabinets each containing numerous objects linked with the architects. For example one cabinet displays Geoffrey Powell’s drawing tools.

A highlight for me was the cabinet containing photographs taken by the architects on their travels, many of which formed Christmas cards sent out on behalf of the practice. Photography was a hobby of both Chamberlin and Powell and the photographs displayed here eye-level are for me, the main draw of the exhibition. A favourite picture of mine is titled Ocean City, United States of America (pictured at the top of this page). A black and white stylised picture of the staircases of a three story building which has echoes of both its colonial style past but also draws parallels with the staircase layouts of many modernist buildings such as the Lloyd’s building.

The urban vision of Chamberlin, Powell & Bon which is described in the exhibition text as “decidedly modern without renouncing the past” becomes apparent but the multitude of drawings and photographs by the architects of features of classical antiquity. This is no more apparent then in the two of the Powell’s photo albums displayed side by side, one on the Bauhaus and the other on pictures taken on their travels landmarks and architectural details from classical styles in Europe. There was also some paintings done by Geoffrey Powell which were a real delight.
Geoffrey Powell: Untitled, courtesy of Polly Powell on display at the Barbican.

Geoffrey Powell: Untitled, courtesy of Polly Powell on display at the Barbican Centre.

For those already visiting the Barbican I would highly recommend visiting this free exhibition but would not recommend visiting it as a stand alone exhibition. Although it appears as an eclectic array of objects and artefacts, it provides great context to those three people who designed the Barbican and highlights their wider interests.

The Barbican Exhibition, Chamberlin, Powell & Bon is at the Barbican Centre until 17th May and is free.
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