Middlesex Street, ‘Petticoat Lane’, is full of public housing, from interwar tenements to a remarkable mini-Barbican of walkways and towers. It’s a sudden plunge right into real London, and vies with Poplar for the sharpest meeting of rich and poor in Europe. These places were largely owned by the LCC, now Tower Hamlets, and hence are left to rot. The City’s own postwar housing projects, however, are still a revelation. It’s incredible at this distance to think that the City could have paid for Golden Lane, for instance, a place where evidently some of London’s working class manage to live well next to architects who are paying over the odds for the same flats. The Barbican, into which it imperceptibly fades along Goswell Lane, is a more complicated proposition, never public housing in the strict sense, although certainly not intended as the luxury enclave it is now. The Barbican, aside from the sheer pleasure of its Brutalist-Baroque grandeur, is mainly of use for deflecting every anti-modernist, anti-urban shibboleth going – a high density arrangement of towers and walkways, without an inch of ‘defensible space’, in beefy raw concrete, that is doing very well thank you (it’s also, like the City itself, a wonderful place to get yourself deliberately lost on a Sunday).

Owen Hatherley trawls the city (Urban Trawl)

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