Brutalism: the type of architecture that is perhaps the most controversial and divides opinion most; those who hate it consider it ugly, hard and cold; those who love it find it intriguing, inspiring and appreciate it for its form, its uniformity and its unconventional beauty. At the end of 2016, London-based photographer Anton Rodriguez released his debut book, Residents: Inside the Iconic Barbican Estate, to show just that: the real side to one of Brutalism’s most impressive works.
Built in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Barbican Estate sits in the heart of inner city London and is one of the largest examples of Brutalist architecture. The complex was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell & Bon as the ultimate in utopian living; it was high-density residential living in the middle of a city still feeling the effects of the Second World War, but not as we knew it – with it came schools, restaurants, communal gardens, lakes and later, the Barbican Centre which plays host to art, music, film and theatre performances.
“I always used to be at the Barbican station where you can see in [to the estate] and I’d hear people say ‘who would want to live there?’” says Rodriguez. “I wanted to change the perception of the building and show that you can’t judge a book by its cover. If you look inside, every flat’s so clean and bright and white, with floor-to-ceiling windows which you don’t really get in most flats.”
The book was published in October 2016 and sold out within months, with the second run now available. It started out as a project with VSCO, before being published by the Barbican Centre. “I thought it would take three-five months but it took two years, just because residents…they’re not always available, people don’t always want to be photographed. Some say you can photograph the interior but not me, but the project was about them and their interior.”
In the book you’ll see the people who make up the Barbican – the majority of whom are creatives; architects, designers, artists, photographers – as well as the homes they live in. There are a lot of clean lines, modernist features and mid-century furniture, with each resident putting their own stamp on their space. Take David for example, the Liverpudlian architect who “loves colour”, has a green felt carpet and a bright yellow lambanana that has become a modern icon in the city in which he grew up, or Paris-born Caroline whose flat features a sparkly gold curtain and patchwork textiles.
“I had zero friends in the Barbican before the book”, says Rodriguez. “Everyone’s quite private but we have an online forum and I put a little note on the notice board saying I’m doing this project, does anyone want to be a part of it. Slowly people started saying yes and then it was word of mouth really.
“I’d have a little chat with them in their flat for half an hour, an hour, sometimes more. Then I’d just photograph the flat. Nothing was changed, I didn’t move anything, it was completely natural. I didn’t ask them to tidy up – although I hoped they would, some didn’t. It was a very organic way of doing it.”
It helps that Rodriguez has an undeniable interest and passion in the estate. Having lived in various flats there over the course of four years, he wanted to go beyond his own experience and discover more about those of his neighbours’.
“I used to live in Clerkenwell and then I lived in Marylebone which is lovely. But the Barbican’s…everything’s done for you. There’s under-floor heating, the rubbish is collected from your front door every day, all your parcels go downstairs to the car park attendant and he posts a little slip for you. It’s convenient. Then you’ve got the cinema, the art centre, the lake, private gardens for residents.”
Aside from showing the variation and the soul of the Barbican (which from the outside looks so vast, imposing and uniform) through the different types of flats (of which there are over 140) and impeccably styled interiors, the book shows the people who reside there – from Kate, who’s lived in the estate since it was first built, to Marianne, who runs the organic shop underneath one of the tower blocks, and everyone else in between. In a famously private city like London, Rodriguez’s book has brought a sense of community to the residents of the estate.
“I launched my book at the Barbican Centre and invited the residents in the book to my flat afterwards – they were so happy to meet each other and have a reason to say hello to each other. We’re going to try and meet up annually.”
Rodriguez went freelance in March 2016 after being the photographer and working on the marketing side of things at Folk, who snapped him up whilst he was at university. Raised in Liverpool, he moved to London and hasn’t looked back since. Now, he counts Folk as one of his clients as well as branching into the world of food, interiors and portrait photography.
As well as his book, which he describes as his “most rewarding” piece, he’s done work for Soho House, the Modern House, Cereal magazine and other British fashion brands. One of his favourites though, apart from Residents…, is his work he’s done with Lyle’s, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Shoreditch.
“They do the Guest Series where they fly a chef in from a different country every month who take over the restaurant and I photograph them”, says Rodriguez. “They took me to Scotland and flew in six chefs from different countries to experience shooting and hunting, and cook with the likes of duck and pheasant. The whole experience was meant to show everything from start to finish – shooting to skinning to cooking.”
As for what’s next, there’s the aforementioned documentary to go alongside the book, as well as a new book in the pipeline about chefs at home. “I want to photograph chefs and take away the myth that chefs have amazing kitchens at home. Usually they have the worst kitchen ever because they’re never home; most chefs I know start at 6am and get home at 1am/2am. I’m shooting about 20 chefs and doing a recipe with each one, but a really simple one. So there are going to be Michelin-starred chefs but they might do a recipe for cheese on toast, just what they like to cook at home.” Judging by Residents…it’s sure to be an insightful and extremely stylish piece of work.
Residents: Inside the Barbican Estate by Anton Rodriguez is available from the Barbican. To see more of his work, visit his website.
Words by Angharad Jones. Images courtesy of Anton Rodriguez