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The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

The Yellow Line

Friday 14 November 2014

‘Follow the yellow line’ – a commonly heard phrase around the Barbican, as visitors are guided around the highwalks and into the Centre by our somewhat idiosyncratic painted directional system.

Jane Northcote, a Barbican resident and enthusiast shares her striking series of photographs and explains what drove her curiosity about this simple yellow line…

‘For many people the Barbican represents a huge concrete maze. People get lost in the Barbican; me too. The Yellow Line was evidently someone’s attempt to solve this problem – these photos are to celebrate and document this valiant effort.

‘The Barbican is concrete, but not unchanging’

But it’s more than this. The Barbican Estate appears static and monumental, yet the Yellow Line shows evidence of change. It has been re-routed, for reasons that are no longer apparent. See, for example, the ‘ghost line’ under Willoughby House, where faint traces remain of an alternative Line. In some places, the Line stops suddenly, because a building or bridge has disappeared. The Line used to come from Milton Court, for example, so it stops abruptly at a precipice over Silk Street and seems to want to leap into space. The bridge it crossed has been dismantled. So the Line speaks to us of the fluidity of the Barbican Estate. The Barbican is concrete, but not unchanging.

There is something wonderfully whimsical and human about the Line. Like all artefacts, it has aged, and strange things have happened to it. There’s a marvellous place near the Museum of London where the tiles have been taken up, and then re-laid in a different order. As a result, the tiles where the Line was painted are now dispersed, and the line is fragmented. In the area east of Moor Lane, outside the City Boot pub, it has worn out in patches, so it resembles the dots and dashes of Morse Code. It has been eradicated in places, near the Pizza Express, for example. By the lake under Andrewes House, it has no arrows, so people don’t know which way to follow it.

‘I am intrigued by the idea of the Barbican as a maze’

Thus a construct that was intended to help people, and make things simple, has now become rather confusing and complicated – I love the humanity of this. The Line is almost a sculpture representing the problematical task of trying to show someone the way. I am intrigued by the idea of the Barbican as a maze. With a collection of postcards, you can make your own maze, by stringing them together. I tried always to take the photographs from the same height, and with the Yellow Line either vertical or horizontal, so you can make the line continue through the series. You can make your own way, as, ultimately, we all must.’

The Yellow Line Postcard Book is available to buy from the Barbican Shop.

Jane Northcote