Once-controversial Barbican 'megastructure' joins the stately homes as a listed building

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The maze of buildings that makes up the Barbican Centre in the City of London joined some of Britain's greatest architectural treasures yesterday by being granted listed status.

The imposing concrete complex, which has won bouquets and brickbats in equal measure, has been made a Grade II-listed building, Tessa Blackstone, the Minister for the Arts, said.

"The Barbican estate is of special architectural interest for its scale, its plan, cohesion and the ambition of the project," she added.

The classification was welcomed by English Heritage, which has been eager to promote the listing of post-war architecture. "The Barbican is very much a building that is an example of its time and it is much loved by its residents, who were pushing for this," a spokeswoman said. "It is an outstanding design."

The Barbican project was begun in 1963 and work on the arts complex started in 1971. But building took 19 years and £153m to complete its mix of high-rise apartments, two theatres, three cinemas, a library and art gallery.

The London Symphony Orchestra is based there and, until now, it has been the London headquarters of the Royal Shakespeare Company, although the RSC is going to be moving out. There are also restaurants, shops and the Guildhall School of Music.

The listing process was started during the last Parliament when Alan Howarth, who was then Arts minister, said there would be three months of consultation on the proposed listing. The discussions were part of a process, which has been going on since 1995, aimed at identifying important post-war buildings that ought to be added to the listed register, which was traditionally dominated by classical architecture and stately homes.

Inaugurating the consultation, Mr Howarth had admitted that the 35-acre Barbican site had caused considerable controversy. It became part of City folklore that the labyrinth was impossible to navigate, and many visitors, and even residents, were left baffled when yellow lines were painted in to guide the way towards the arts complex at its centre.

The Pevsner architectural guide to London says there is nothing else quite like the Barbican in British architecture. "It combines two favourite concepts of post-war planning: the traffic-free housing precinct linked by elevated walkways, and the giant multi-functional 'megastructure,' to use the jargon of the time."

The centre was named after an outer fortification of the old city walls, which was pulled down in 1267 in an area that has been home to the rich and famous for centuries. Residents have included the late Labour leader, John Smith.