Cultural centres

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An occasional series on some of the more unusual artistic venues. Purely for the reason that we’d like to share our favourites and specifically for this one we’re big fans of green spaces.

The Conservatory at The Barbican

The Barbican is rivalled only by the Southbank Centre as London’s premier arts centre. But hidden away among its concert hall, theatre, galleries, cinemas, bars and cafés is a tropical haven. We say among, when really it’s above all the cultural hubbub, high up on Level 3, above the theatre.

Open on Sundays and Bank Holidays, it can be a surprising find. Why would you expect to find London’s second largest conservatory after Kew in the heart of the brutalist architecture of its surroundings. It’s worth finding though, for the surreal experience of stepping into a tropical world close to the centre of London.

The space was originally designed to hide the Barbican’s fly tower, from where scenery for plays taking place in the theatre below is lowered, and slowly became filled with plants. There are now over 2,000 species represented here, including date palms and coffee and ginger plants. On the east side is an Arid House, which is home to cacti and orchids. And in the waterways that run through the space, there are koi carp, plus terrapins relocated from Hampstead Heath. Above your head is a spectacular lattice of steel and glass.

While not an exhibition space in itself, on occasion the Conservatory does allow cultural events taking place in its near surroundings to spill over. For example, during a Barbican celebration of minimalist music in 2004, a performance of Satie’s 19-hour composition Vexations was played by a relay of pianists overnight in the space.

In any case, the Barbican Conservatory is well worth a visit if you fancy a break from the cultural overload outside – they even do afternoon teas on Sundays these days – and it’s free.

You can find full details of opening hours here.

Photo credit: Max Colson