mylandscapes contemporary garden design & build

soaring roofline barbican terrace

barbican roof terrace London

roof terrace blog / city rooftops

design & words Amir Schlezingeramir schlezinger

Terrace Magnetism

Perched on the 40th floor of Barbican's Cromwell Tower, this triplex penthouse apartment features an immense perspective of London's skyline, and a trio of rooftop terraces. The 123-metre tower, part of three, remains one of UK's tallest residential buildings; completed in 1973, and now a grade II listed building, its brutalist architecture was once an urban wonder of in-situ concrete. The modernised residence is enveloped by three, unique roof terraces, which thrive in distinct weather aspects – immersed in standout, inner-city panoramas.

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1. deck 2. olive 3. view 4. birch 5. stone 6. ginkgo 7. podium 8. lighting 9. grasses 10. planters

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1 deck

sense of space

A previous landscaping on the top roof terrace consisted of a mere deck, where we sought to contrast new materials with foliage, improve vital scale and infuse minimalist elements to enhance indoor-outdoor fluidity. The sizeable sandstone pavers, custom planters, textural trees and wide deck boards maximise depth across a small rooftop garden setting. An Ipe hardwood deck continues the interior flooring in the same direction and level as the conservatory, creating a deeper sense of space by utilising an expansive decking design to highlight this terrace's standout, Central London location.

2 olive

ode to st paul's

High up on Cromwell Tower's 38th floor, our clients' lower rooftop terrace features an expansive city vista, where a Spanish Olive tree silhouette echoes the outline of St Paul's Cathedral's dome. A linear deck curves gently upwards, reiterating the contour of cantilevered Barbican terraces, while strip lighting below the parapet's overhang merges with a London skyline. The bespoke, turquoise planter was designed to match this in-situ curvature, enhancing the living room view towards the capital's urban landscape, reciprocated with a wider trough opposite, which replicates the Gherkin's elliptical form.

3 view

gherkin & beyond

On approach to the Barbican Centre on Silk Street, immersed in deep shade cast by its buildings' towering structures, we couldn't expect the ambience awaiting upstairs at Cromwell Tower's soaring summit. There's a myriad of captivating city panoramas in every part of this spacious penthouse apartment, where a sweeping London landscape unveils its layered, urban history through each window and porthole view along the sequence. Perching in the living room forms a surreal, lofty experience, where at 120-metre height, the Gherkin's lens-like apex glistens at eye level. When emerging back into the public atrium, its vast Barbican Conservatory revitalises a low-key setting with an astounding, 2000-species tropical glasshouse jungle.

4 birch

red silver trunks

The upper roof terrace, on the 40th floor, presents an exclusive view of an ever-changing London skyline, where Box hedging reiterates the concrete walls' horizontal apertures, and a Chinese red birch mimics the Gherkin's distinct outline. Designing with iconic landmarks, while framing a rooftop landscape, forms an enticing challenge. The Birch, Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’, produces small serrated leaves – able to flourish in a turbulently gusty terrace microclimate. Repeated diagonally in two corners, and featured in a bespoke white planter, this cultivar thrives in continual urban pollution, wind and heat. The Birch trees' dainty foliage generates delicate silhouettes to soften its Barbican's concrete pillars backdrop, while the planters' circular apertures echo London Eye's outline.

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5 stone

blue & buff interplay

To contrast the Ipe hardwood, and create asymmetry to enlarge an apparently small roof terrace space, we designed and built a grid of specially quarried, natural sandstone beside the deck. The patterned surface layout was achieved by carving sections of buff stone, while reinstating blue pavers at alternating midpoints. The blue stone and turquoise planters, which form the hard landscaping, produce fresh tones, and blend into the sky to brighten the Barbican's concrete framework on overcast days.

6 ginkgo

maidenhair glory

This Barbican roof terrace contains a multitude of detailed design nuances. The graceful foliage of Ginkgo biloba, the Maidenhair tree, provides perfect contrast to Red hook sedges, where both species are mulched in polished black pebbles, and nestled together in a pair of bespoke, turquoise troughs. The Ginkgo was selected for its excellent pollution tolerance, where a quartet of trees balances scale pivotally, positioned between immense, in-situ concrete walls. Endangered in the wild, the Ginkgo tree has outlasted more than 250 million years of evolution without much need to alter its make-up, and for these eternal qualities it's the only deciduous conifer still around – producing standout autumn colour.

7 podium

discover the view

When we first stepped out onto the upper roof terrace, we couldn't see out to admire its London views. Standing on a chair, a myriad of landmarks and sunset colours unveiled London Eye, The O2, Battersea Power Station and St Paul's Cathedral; we felt the city's energy up there, and sought to create a viewing platform which will reinvent outdoor use and immerse the roof terrace in Barbican panoramas. A movable podium provides a promenade from which to appreciate spectacular London landscapes, crafted with a powder-coated steel frame, Ipe boards and steps clad in buff sandstone.

8 lighting

barbican ambience

As the top roof terrace isn't viewed directly from the main living hubs, a remote key fob enables switching on outdoor lighting within the apartment to modify the ambience of various zones according to use. As in all of our terrace garden designs, lighting formed a central element; the silhouettes projected through tree canopies reach high across concrete walls, adding a textured layer which blends fluidly into London's shimmering city nightscape and its landmarks.

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9 grasses

red hook sedge

Uncinia rubra, the Red hook sedge from New Zealand, forms an effervescent, easygoing addition to evergreen terrace planting. In this Barbican rooftop terrace, the sedges' round outline and vibrant colour distinguish butterfly-shaped Ginkgo foliage, infusing standout, foliar contrast among smooth black pebbles and turquoise planters. When the deciduous trees shed their leaves in winter, these grassy mounds clutch the composition en masse, producing eye-level interest.

10 planters

turquoise architecture

Many of our roof terrace schemes feature customised signature planters, displaying intrinsic shapes tailored to the qualities of a unique city space with distinctive colours. Here, in all three roof terraces, one-off, geometric planters delineate curvature contrasted by linearity. While the building's solid backdrop is softened through circular and arched elevations, the roof terrace designs reciprocate sympathetically with existing urban architecture – expressed by a minimalist palette of turquoise and white powder-coating in an individualised spectrum of custom-made planters.

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– coda –

Rooftop Sessions

The success of this Barbican roof terrace scheme led to three further projects with our clients, and we proceeded to reinvent their Essex country home landscape, followed by a Japanese garden on the same grounds, culminating in a new patio around a barn conversion. The Barbican roof terrace remains an intimate paradise hideaway, amid epic London skyline views, while its trees continue to flourish – their vigorous silhouettes clearly visible from one of our Farringdon roof terraces. With so much city essence up here, this Barbican rooftop retreat depicts its own standout production of Ginkgo on the Roof!