Radiant: London’s Secret Garden

By Jo Phillips

Built in the 1970s to transform war-torn London, the Barbican Estate is the result of a Utopian vision. A self-contained metropolis that took over a decade to build, the 40-acre site includes housing, schools, a YMCA and Europe’s largest multi-arts venue.

Aerial view of the Barbican Centre © Morley Von Sternberg
Aerial view of the Barbican Centre © Morley Von Sternberg

The Barbican Arts Centre is world-renowned, consisting of two theatres, a concert hall, a library, an art gallery, cinemas, offices, a restaurant and shops. However, deep within the labyrinth of concrete Brutalist architecture is a secret garden, a kind of post-apocalyptic Noah’s ark. A glass oasis inhabited by thousands of tropical plants and trees, as well as finches, quails and exotic fish — this is London’s second biggest conservatory.

Conservatory © Lee Mawdsley
Conservatory © Lee Mawdsley

Added in 1980, it was constructed around the theatre’s huge fly tower to improve views for residents. Spread over two floors this fantastical high-rise jungle is a refuge that feels a million miles away from its surroundings. A city sanctuary, known by few and rarely open to the public — a well kept secret.

Conservatory © Lee Mawdsley
Conservatory © Lee Mawdsley

Free, but only open on selected Sundays and bank holidays.

Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS.