Although as much loved as loathed for its expansive use of brutalist concrete, the Barbican is a surprisingly green place, with lots of open spaces and gardens.
It also boasts London’s second-largest heated conservatory, sitting right on top of the Barbican arts centre. Unlike its larger counterpart down in Kew, it’s not open every day, but when it is open, it’s totally free to visit.
Finally, after years of forgetting, I managed to synchronize being in the area for something else and visiting the conservatory.
Up three floors to the art gallery, and no, not into the garden room, but go outside and there you will see the entrance to the conservatory, and just push on the fire-exit doors to get inside.
A solitary chap sat under a heater to keep an eye on arrivals, but otherwise, save a few visitors, the place was almost totally empty. And this on a cold winters morning, when visiting a heated greenhouse might have been more appealing.
The conservatory wraps around the huge flytower that supports scenery for the theatre beneath your feet, and while the concrete of the Barbican is still very evident, it adds to the overall effect.
Imagine a city centre abandoned by humans and overrun by plants, and that’s what you are walking through when you visit. A dystopian film maker’s paradise.
One half is lain out in even blocks, dictated by the light wells from below, but a wander around the corner through a concrete alleyway and there is a much more naturalistic layout. Such as is possible under steel and glass. A modest pool hidden away in a corner contains fattened fish.
A raised walkway leads to a wooden barrier, but offers some excellent views from above, and access to a dry room for cacti and other such hot-weather plants.
If you can’t make it down to Kew, this is a petty good alternative, and right in the middle of the city as well.
The conservatory is open most Sundays — but check their website first. Opening times: 11am–5pm.