Happy 30th birthday! Barbican celebrates with giant concrete cake

Barbican's 30th birthday cake by Bompas & Parr. Photo: Philippa Warr

According to Sam Bompas (of Bompas & Parr) the commission to create a gigantic concrete birthday cake for the Barbican Centre ran approximately thus:

“Will you make us a birthday cake?”

“Only if we can make it from concrete”

“That’s fine.”


The result is kind of like if Battersea Power Station and a cupcake had a baby (which, in case it’s not clear, is a GOOD thing). The main body of the cake is the most interesting. It’s been cast into the shape of those cupcake case ridges but the surfaces are chipped and rough, revealing jewel-like glass fragments. The glass is actually glass wax – a movie prop material which resembles glass and can be easily moulded. It also shatters safely meaning you’re not going to start bleeding if you brush past the sculpture.

Larger, illuminated glass segments reference the chunks you find in a fruit cake and take their form from some of the architectural jelly moulds Bompas & Parr used years ago at an event in UCL’s quad. I also rather like the glowing crack which runs the circumference of the cake – visually it’s 50% lava escaping a volcano and 50% buttercream filling.

Barbican's 30th birthday cake by Bompas & Parr. Photo: Philippa Warr

The cake was in the conservatory for the unveiling but will then move down to the ground floor where it will remain for a month. I asked Sam what on earth Bompas & Parr were going to do with a massive concrete cake when the birthday celebrations were over.

“You can have a world exclusive,” he grinned. “We’re going to hold a massive ‘Guess the weight of the cake’ contest and give it to the winner!

“It would make an amazing rockery – or the best children’s climbing frame!”

If I haven’t got anything else lined up for my dad’s Father’s Day present by then I might submit a few guesses myself – it would be a talking point, if nothing else!

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