I’ve been watching a fabulous documentary series about the history of the London Underground. It’s called ‘Going Underground’ and it’s on Channel 5. I’ve long been a fan the London Underground. Since my Father and his parents hail from our fine capital city; I spent a significant portion of my time there growing up. I’ve always loved the architecture of the stations, the branding, the furniture – icons such as the subway tiles, the Underground Map and the whole ambience. My Father remembers when steam trains operated on the lines.
A man called Frank Peck re-designed Piccadilly Circus station in the 1920s. The whole ethos of his design was to create ‘flow’; a movement of people through the station. This had been sadly lacking in its Edwardian predecessor, with halting lifts and cramped ticket hall. He aimed to create a circular ticket hall, a bit like a roundabout to keep people moving. Something he later repeated in other Modernist stations he designed, such as Arnos Grove.
Within his design at Piccadilly, he chose to use elements like pillars to create a feeling of space, by giving the appearance of raising the ceiling. What really struck me was that he used materials such as brass for the pillars and ticket lobby, along with marble tiles on the walls. He wanted the station to reflect the area it was situated in (The West End), but more than this he wanted to use materials that wear in, not materials that wear out. You know that aged patina that can only come with the passage of time. I don’t see that as a faded glory, but I think it adds to something’s beauty or charm.
Even today, Piccadilly is at the back of the waiting list for refurbishment because it was built so well back in the days that it was felt it could survive the longest! That is a testament to buying once, is it not? I wonder if the same will be able to be said of today’s Underground in 100 years time? The trains that run on the line today are 1970s rolling stock and although the oldest, they are the most reliable trains on the Underground to day! Even these trains are based on an original 1930s design by guess who….Frank Pick! They were a simple design which also made them simple to repair and maintain.
Some lessons for us all on Simplicity and Minimalism from London’s own, iconic Underground! I would never have thought such secrets lay within and I can only hope that those who are taking it forward will learn from it, continuing to employ such common sense.