RUFF Architects has refurbished the much-loved cinemas at London’s Barbican Centre.


Rob Parrish

RUFF Architects’ reworking of the cinemas at London’s Barbican Centre includes three newly refurbished auditoriums, enlivened foyer and welcome areas, as well as reconfigured entrances. The design team used original unseen archive models and photos to inform its sensitive approach to the Chamberlin, Powell & Bon designed building.

“From an early stage we identified the changing ways in which visitors were using the venues and what they were expecting from the audience experience,” says project director Paul Ruff. “We focused on an authentic, high-quality and appropriate refurbishment that improved the visitor’s journey within the spaces, as well as re-established the successful original design concepts of light, space, perspective and simplicity.”


The new design for the Barbican’s Beech Street Cinemas 2 & 3 addresses changing audiences and accessibility needs, making use of enhanced technology like digital wayfinding and paperless ticketing. RUFF’s concept creates focus and navigation points through the journey of arrival, meeting, collecting tickets, eating and drinking, as well as the screen experience.

“A significant amount of work at Beech Street went into providing a consistent and legible visual language to unify the spaces and make them clearly identifiable as part of the Barbican,” explains Ruff.

The new foyer in Cinemas 2 & 3 includes an enclosed lobby, which provides significant environmental benefits. “We took the coffered and gridded ceiling of the main Centre and playfully created an uplifting and bright entrance lantern,” says the studio. “The new lobby is critical as a pausing moment before entering the foyer. We worked meticulously with the wider Centre teams to tie this into the main building and the Barbican’s public space experience, as well as keeping it as a standalone identifiable venue.”

Axonometric drawings showing lobbies to Cinema 1 and Cinemas 2&3

Furniture in the foyers takes cues from the Barbican Centre’s original concept and layouts. Reusing existing banquette seating from Cinemas 2 & 3, as well as repurposing chairs, helps to ground the modern interventions within the existing Brutalist building.

New textures and variations have been added with modern materials such as Velcromat, a natural fibre, non-toxic and organically dyed board for the tables. This is paired with robust and sustainable products, including brass work surfaces, that will age gracefully. Hearing loop upgrades, improved signage, space for standing, as well as high- and low-level seating improve accessibility and allow for greater flexibility in the foyer spaces.


Wall coverings have been replaced in the auditorium of Cinema 1 with a recycled polyester fibre product that has enhanced acoustic properties. “We sourced sustainable fabric alternatives, using natural and recycled yarns to ensure hygiene and maintenance standards could be met,” says project architect Giacomo Calisti. “We also challenged suppliers and manufactures to go beyond in their offerings.”


Custom-designed feature lights add clarity and visual continuity to the cinema spaces. “The lantern in Cinemas 2 & 3 and the halo in foyer level-2 are designed to celebrate the scale of the volumes, while also providing intimate and identifiable visual markers. “So often through the Centre these markers become your wayfinding, your meeting point and your memory,” says Ruff.

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