Schoolgirls Destroy Barbican Architect In This Cringe Video

Last Updated 01 May 2024

Schoolgirls Destroy Barbican Architect In This Cringe Video
Possibly the worst day of Peter Chamberlin's life

If, like us, you're one of those insufferable types who fawns over the concrete Xanadu that is the Barbican, you might be familiar with Peter Chamberlin, one of its architects.

He is the maker of a million hipster wet dreams but Chamberlin will also forever be the man once torn limb from limb by a bunch of sharp schoolgirls, while half the country watched on and stuffed their fists into their mouths.

Alan Whicker: not smug at all

The bout of stinging criticism wasn't for the Barbican itself but the newly-dropped hyperbolic paraboloid that was Trinity School in Elephant and Castle. The year was 1961, the show was 'Tonight', and Alan Whicker was doing his best impression of Monty Python's Alan Whicker sketch — even though that wouldn't exist for another 11 years.

"You can imagine how delighted the schoolchildren must have been to get away from dingy Victorianism into such bright modernity..." smarms the walking, talking moustache, knowing full well the architectural splatterfest lurking round the corner.

Not taking any shit

Whicker thrusts Chamberlin — a third of the now-venerated Chamberlin, Powell and Bon triumvirate — in front of a group of young students, who apparently have more beef than Argentina.

After a lone compliment on the assembly hall's sliding doors, the conveyor belt of carnage cranks into action.

"Why did you make the stairs slightly sloped, and make them with the redbrick which is so slippery?" demands the first girl. They aren't slippery, counters Chamberlin. An old lady's already done herself in there, counters the girl. Chamberlin tries to wave this aside — his manner perhaps suggesting there was no such old lady.

The troublesome hyperbolic parabaloid in question

Now bring on the softball questions, thinks our brutalist hero. No such luck.

What was the idea of placing the windows so high up? wonders the next kid. And also, why are half the windows blocked up? A reasonable question when you see what she's talking about, but Chamberlin swerves this one too, saying it's so they can pin up their lovely pictures. Nicely played. But wait:

"I think the lecture rooms are dangerous," says a third girl. "The top desk is level with the windows, and if the windows are open, a child could fall out of there."

The famous Death Window

Incredibly, Chamberlin fully accepts that a child COULD plunge to their death during register call. A guard rail will be fixed soon, he says. With luck before too many ten-year-olds are found smashed up in the playground below.

The next critic moves on to another lethal idiosyncrasy of the new school — a tiny step which trips up literally everyone. Even strangers. Which, for a school, might be a decent deterrent. Chamberlin doesn't latch onto this, though, and again agrees it was his eff-up, and he's going to sort it.

By now it looks like he's considering a leap from that lecture room window himself.

"Sorry, what's the problem now?"

No time for that. "Don't you think the drainage system is rather bad?" wonders Disgruntled Girl #247, suggesting the school children might launch themselves directly into these hulking iron beams. "They're very dangerous," she continues, cementing the new school motto.

Chamberlin plucks up the courage to think otherwise, only to be told "We've had one accident already." That old lady was NOT having a good day.

Just some effing lethal steps

And now she's going in for the kill: "Don't you think you've designed the blackboards in a rather awkward position?". Jees. Someone give Pete a cuddle. The blackboards actually ARE in stupid positions. But anyway, he's had enough, and palms the blackboard blame onto someone else.

Right, who designed these ridiculous blackboards because Peter Chamberlin says it's not his fault, and I for one believe him

'You want a building that will REALLY give people something to moan about?' Chamberlin is thinking to himself now. 'Hold my beer'. And thus the Barbican was born.

Watch the full video here, and don't take a massive slurp of tea before you start, otherwise it'll end up on the wall opposite.

All images © BBC