Transforming London’s Stations
After I had major eye surgery I was supposed to be collected from the hospital but my ride fell through and it was raining so hard that there were no cabs, so I did a dumb thing.
I went by tube. In the rush hour. With only 20% sight. And to make matters worse, I had to use the Baker Street interchange. This might have been fit for purpose in 1888, but now you have to be a mind-reader to find your platform because there’s no central hub and you must march along different platforms, up and down Escheresque staircases, and keep an eye out for signs which are contradictory and tucked away – it was fine for Victorians but the modern world is more crowded and faster. I stalled and turned and felt my way along walls, and suddenly I was like a boulder in a stream, blocking everything. We are programmed to move fast and see nothing.
The signs for Tokyo Station are now repeated in English for visitors and are no longer confusing, but in the UK we like to compound confusion. There are endless audio announcements, some funny, some over-explanatory, some annoying. No two stations are alike, the Thatcher ministers having tarted up a few (very badly – look at Leicester Square) while ignoring the crumbling infrastructure. After years of mismanagement the damage is being repaired.
Now the new termini are nearly all amazing; London Bridge has cleverly put its seating behind the barriers, clearing the concourse, and its wooden ceiling seems to reference the beloved Festival Hall. King’s Cross / St Pancras is being held as a stunning global model of reinvention. It has everything, including a champagne bar with heated seats, so there’s that. Soon will come the destruction of the worst example of sixties vandalism, Euston, which saw the removal of its oversized Corinthian arch and dazzling booking hall, replacing it with the tackiest of station malls.
When I said ‘nearly all amazing’ back there I was obviously referring to the ongoing disaster of Victoria tube, which feels like entering an air-raid shelter and after 15 years of works seems no closer to being finished. Waterloo, once grand and elegant, suffered several misfortunes; a giant roundabout at the bottom of its great staircase and a Eurostar terminal that was defunct almost as soon as it was built.
Once the taxis used to take you right onto the platform at Paddington. I would catch the one minute to midnight train to Cornwall, having been dropped by taxi outside the train door – sadly no more. Now, in typical London fashion, travellers wishing to get from overland to underground are faced with hilariously contradictory signs and a quarter-mile walk.
And so it goes. The confident branding that once defined building uses (glazed maroon tiles for stations, green tiles for pubs, black and white traffic signs) and made streets instantly identifiable as ‘London-y’ have been eroded as a new generic style emerges for everything – glass, concrete, steel – but occasionally something wonderful gets through.