London trip — day two: Barbican architecture tour; Museum of Brands

This entry is part [part not set] of 4 in the series London trip (February 2012)

Day two map:

London day two map

Barbican architecture tour

Shakespeare Tower from Frobisher Crescent

St Giles' Cripplegate bell tower

Owing to my developing interest in brutalist architecture, I decided I would take a look at the Barbican Estate to see one prominent brutalist project in the flesh. I took a look at the Barbican Arts Centre website to see if there were any interesting events on. To my delight, I discovered that they do architecture tours.

The tour lasted just over 90 minutes, and was a fascinating insight into the project. The tour takes in parts of the Barbican Arts Centre and large parts of the estate.

From a distance we looked at the City of London School for Girls and the incredible St Giles-without-Cripplegate church.

Lauderdale Tower

It was absolutely freezing cold that day. This was the day that temperatures plunged to −7°C overnight. I am not sure what the temperature was during the day, but it certainly felt sub-zero.

The problem was that I was so fascinated by the tour — and we were standing in the outdoors for most of the time — that I didn’t think to put on my gloves only occasionally noticed just how cold my hands were. I think they are still recovering from the damage.

But that can only be a good reflection of the architecture tour. And as you can see, I got some great snaps. It was possibly the highlight of my trip. If you’re interested in architecture, I would get to one of these tours if you can.

Frobisher Crescent
Original Barbican pedestrian map
Barbican plaza

All of my photos from the Barbican estate:

Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

In the afternoon I made my way over to the Museum of Brands. It is hidden away a bit, but once you get there it is like hitting upon a treasure trove of nostalgia.

The museum tracks the evolution of brands, packaging and advertising since Victorian times. You make your way through a winding tunnel, surrounded by cabinets jam-packed from head to foot with countless vintage packaging. The majority of this tunnel is laid out in chronological order, allowing you to see the trends over time.

To some it might seem like an obscure topic to have a museum about. It might be easy to dismiss it as a shallow nostalgia fest. But these ostensibly disposable objects tell the story of everyday life in the 20th century. It’s telling a social history too. And there cannot be many better places than the Museum of Brands to document this history.

There are stories about emancipation, technology and even international relations. One of the most striking items I noticed was “Adolf Shitler” toilet roll, designed to keep spirits up during the second world war by allowing people to wipe their arses on Hitler’s face.

I have a couple of criticisms. The layout is very claustrophobic. The corridors are quite narrow, so it’s easy to clatter into somebody else if you have just been peering into one of the cabinets. Also, the lighting isn’t great, and the cabinets are stuffed so full that it’s quite difficult to see some of the items.

I would also say that there is too much on display. It is quite overwhelming. On the plus side, I am certain that I could visit again and notice things that totally passed me by first time round, and I would be happy to do so.

If you are interested in advertising, design, or 20th century history in general, I would recommend a trip to the Museum of Brands.

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