Separation Anxiety: High Walks and Modern Publics: Adam Kaasa

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Adam greeted us at Barbican tube. He took us on a tour of the intended (and arguably failed), attempts made by architects and engineers, commencing work in the 1930s, to segregate vehicle traffic and pedestrian activity, in and around the Barbican. The development, we heard, arose from a modernist utopian conception for a new system of mobility, in which vehicles would operate at ground level, unhindered by pedestrian traffic and transporting their goods at an ever-faster rate, while pedestrians would be permitted to saunter on the concrete walkways overhead, indulging in leisurely whims of consumerism without impediment or fear of physical harm.
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Showing us an array of architectural plans and schematics of the Barbican site, Adam, throughout the tour, read from a number of reports and proposals written during the early stages of the site’s development. He contrasted these, almost questionably at first, with a number of psychoanalytical readings concerning “separation anxiety,” as first propounded by Freud, and later elevated by Lacan.

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Adam informed us that the pedestrian/vehicle segregation systems put in place at the Barbican had been born out of a plan to implement this scheme throughout London. The Southbank Centre had been built on a similar system, and the intention was that, eventually, the two would become interconnected through a series of elevated walkways. The Barbican and Southbank Centre, in effect, were prototypes for a much greater project. This vision was never fully realized. The intended citywide pedestrianized network of walkways was never constructed. The array of shops and amenities, intended to occupy the Barbican’s plazas, were short-lived or never built. The Barbican as a cultural hub, we were told, makes a massive annual financial loss, and as a significant national heritage site, has to be subsidised by the state.

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Today, the Barbican is a charming, yet enigmatic site. Systems of control and regulation, wrought through Modern design, function more as novelty than utility. People still walk at ground level, and many would rather circumvent the site than traverse it. The next phase of constructing further walkways was never implemented. The utopian values which underpin the Barbican’s construction, for its inhabitants and users, are perhaps impossible and unimaginable. This, for Adam, is Freud’s separation anxiety. Freud speculated separation anxiety occurs when one is not able to see their mother and life giver – it leaves a distinct anxiety in oneself as he or she fumbles for that sense of clarity.

-Tom Spooner