London's Barbican Centre celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, just two months before the Royal Shakespeare Company abandons the complex for good as its primary residence in the capital.

Designed in the 1960s and 1970s, the Barbican, located in the City of London, was opened on 3 March 1982 by the Queen, who described it as "one of the wonders of the modern world". Since opening, the Barbican has welcomed nearly 27 million visitors who have attended over 52,000 events over the past two decades.

Many of these have been theatrical productions care of the RSC who has used the Barbican as its base in the capital for nearly two decades. But the company began a partial withdrawal from the complex in 1997 when it reduced its annual residency there to only the six winter months of the year.

Then, last spring, RSC artistic director Adrian Noble announced the permanent move, saying it would allow allow the company to mount "bold and original theatre" for one-off runs, kicked off by glittering openings, in the "heart of the West End". The first two transfers as part of this new artistic model have recently been announced - Antony and Cleaopatra and Much Ado About Nothing, which open in Stratford this April, will transfer to the West End's Theatre Royal Haymarket for an eight-week summer season.

Meanwhile at the Barbican, the RSC's final season - which includes Samuel West's acclaimed Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar and Martin McDonagh's controversial The Lieutenant of Inishmore - will finish on 11 May.

After that, the Barbican intends to extend its calendar of international theatre to encompass a full-year programme, making it the principal presenter of international theatre in the UK. BITE (the Barbican International Theatre Event) marks its fifth anniversary this May. It was started as a six-month filler for the months when the RSC was not resident and has to date played host to 69 companies from 23 countries. Its programme for 2002 has not yet been announced.

Commenting on the Barbican’s birthday milestone, managing director John Tusa said that during the past 20 years "the centre has grown, flourished and, above all, changed beyond all recognition. We have matured into one of the largest arts promoters in the country, working across the performing and visual arts…As we move into our third decade, we are fully committed to becoming the best run arts centre in Europe by our 25th birthday. "

The Barbican Centre launched its month of 20th birthday celebrations this past weekend with, on Saturday, an afternoon of discussions hosted by John Tusa, followed by a special 20th Anniversary Opera Gala Night care of impresario Raymond Gubbay, who has been promoting concerts at the Centre since 1982. Other continuing events in the birthday celebrations include a free exhibition "Barbican: This Was Tomorrow", a commemorative season of film, and a series of concerts by the resident London Symphony Orchestra in commemoration of the 75th birthday of cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, culminating with a Gala concert on 27 March.

- by Terri Paddock