After 20 years, the Barbican finally gets a front door

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Pedestrians are said to wander the concrete jungle of the Barbican Centre in London in bafflement. Despite a plethora of yellow lines pointing towards its concert hall, galleries and theatres, the one thing missing has been a front door.

Now, 20 years after the arts complex first opened, a £12.25m grant from its principal benefactor, the Corporation of London, will finally provide the grand entrance pedestrians have never enjoyed.

Visitors arriving by foot or Tube will soon find a proper glass foyer in Silk Street, the name given as the complex's formal address, instead of a roadway leading to its underground car parks. In addition, the above-ground entrance by the fountains in the heart of the complex will be revamped to create a foyer better suiting one of Britain's leading arts venues.

And a completely new entrance will be created to take drivers directly from two of the underground car parks into the centre, without having to make a detour outside first.

John Tusa, the Barbican's managing director, said it might not eliminate every difficulty the first-time visitor faced in navigating the complex. The routes from the Barbican and Moorgate Tube stations were still not straightforward. "But it's bound to help," he added. "We will have three very clearly identified entrances and people will recognise that they are entrances in a way they don't do now."

The original design was partly governed by a belief that most people would arrive at the Barbican by car and would emerge into the complex from the car parks. But that has not proved the case and any regular attendee has discovered pedestrian novices struggling to find a way in at ground level.

"The architects had quite a noble vision of people arriving [in cars] and getting in a lift and appearing in this wonderful enclosed space. It was a wonderful romantic vision but it happens not to be the way most people get here," Mr Tusa said.

The changes will continue inside the complex, where the grant will go towards better lighting and signs as well as structural changes intended to help people to get around. An internal "bridge" outside the main theatre, which currently takes arrivals from Silk Street across to the other side of the building, will be moved so that people will be able to identify the theatre on one side of the vast central space and the concert hall on the other.

Bars, box offices and coffee areas will also be moved so that the building works more logically – and enjoyably – for those attending.

The changes follow recent work on the acoustics of the hall, which has been widely hailed as a success. Mr Tusa said he believed the welcome given to those improvements had encouraged the Corporation to fund the latest developments. The Corporation is also providing another £18m for maintenance of the fabric of the building, which was recently awarded Grade II listed status and is celebrating its 20th birthday this year.