Book: Chamberlin Powell & Bon

Image from the book of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with the a river visible in the right corner of the picture
Elain Harwood’s new monograph for the RIBA traces the story of Chamberlin, Powell & Bon - the practice behind the Barbican’s Lauderdale, Cromwell and Shakespeare towers - from its establishment in 1952, through to the seemingly endless rounds of negotiations and redesigns that came to characterise the Barbican job, some three decades in the making. Pictured here from the book is the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Barbican
(Image credit: TBC)


The panoramic view from the Wallpaper* offices takes in the elaborate concrete tips of the three Barbican towers - Lauderdale, Cromwell and Shakespeare. Against a backdrop of glass, steel and cranes, these Brutalist hunks have endured for decades, slowly but surely becoming one of the capital's most desirable contemporary addresses.

Elain Harwood's new monograph for the RIBA (opens in new tab) traces the story of the practice behind them - Chamberlin, Powell & Bon (opens in new tab) - from its establishment in 1952 by Peter Chamberlin, Christof Bon and Geoffry Powell, through to the seemingly endless rounds of negotiations and redesigns that came to characterise the Barbican job, some three decades in the making.

CP&B met at Kingston University (opens in new tab), with their influences and interests gradually converging throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, partly driven by the impending Festival of Britain (opens in new tab) and its importance to the creative classes.

The practice's first project was the Golden Lane Housing (opens in new tab) in the city of London, still held up as an exemplar of how to build decent, affordable, spacious and well-loved flats, and there were also major works at New Hall and Churchill College in Cambridge (opens in new tab), as well as the grey, expansive but expressive campus at Leeds University (opens in new tab).

The Barbican still stands supreme, however, as a symbol of optimism and self-confidence as well as a stark reminder of the power wielded by a blank slate. Today, there are few modern global cities that could offer up such a site, giving the muscular buildings a uniqueness that might never be repeated. Harwood's monograph benefits from her extensive experience of post-war British architecture and familiarity with many of the key players of the era.

Image of the three towers of Barbican, a view from the outside

Lauderdale, Cromwell and Shakespeare, the three towers of Barbican by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon

(Image credit: TBC)

Image in watercolour of a perspective from 1956 of Barbican showing buildings and people

A perspective from 1956, suggesting the intended vibrancy of Barbican, but with very different elevations from those realised later

(Image credit: TBC)

Image of a black and white drawing showing the Barbican scheme, including people and , pyramidal block of flats to rear left

The first Barbican scheme, from 1955, pyramidal block of flats to rear left

(Image credit: TBC)

Image of the outside of The Cooper Taber Seed Factory

The Cooper Taber Seed Factory, Withan, C. 1957. An early example of work by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon

(Image credit: TBC)

Image of a black and white drawing from the Churchill College Competition

Churchill College Competition, persepctive by Gordon Cullen

(Image credit: TBC)

Image of a sketch in clack and white with pink and blue colour added of an exhibition stand

Exhibition stand for the British Aluminium Company, 1949, by Brown and Chamberlin

(Image credit: TBC)

Image of perspective drawing showing buildings

Perspective by Ian Baker of Geoffry Powell’s winning scheme

(Image credit: TBC)

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.