64. The ventilation shaft in Gibson Square

A bit draughtyI might as well end the suspense right now. For anyone who has been hanging on through 63 updates waiting breathlessly for the first appearance of the Victoria line, this is as close as I’m going to get. And it’s not even a station.

Were this a blog of, say, 365 great things, I might have tossed in a token wall-tile or two. But it’s not, and as such there will be no tokenistic tossing today – or any day.

The only instance of a design, object or sensation exclusive to the Victoria line that will be turning up on this blog, barring exceptional circumstances (in other words, something I’ve rashly overlooked), is right here:

Shaft of light It’s a tastefully-rendered small brick building that sits in the middle of a charming square in Islington. There is no clue to its purpose other than intermittent rumblings from deep inside its walls, coupled with a continual gentle swirl of dust and debris within its wire dome.

Nothing is attached to the outside by way of a sign or a warning to connect it with the Underground. Strangers to the area would not have a clue as to its purpose, though the ambience it radiates offers a good hint.

It is actually a ventilation shaft that sits above the tracks of the Victoria line roughly midway between the stations King’s Cross St Pancras and Highbury and Islington.

And as ventilation shafts go, it’s really rather delightful.

Hot air not picturedAll the fancy decoration and classical brickwork is a massive exercise in misdirection. For this was built in the mid-1960s, and almost turned out as aesthetically uninspiring as much of the rest of the line.

Local residents mounted a campaign (in the way local residents always “mount” things – they never merely conceive or initiate them) to stop the construction of something out of keeping with the design of the area. Their tenacity led to success, although that assumes you prefer this particular kind of ventilation shaft to a big grey metal box*.

Air apparentSifting through the buildings associated with the Victoria line, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that you’re looking at a transport project that put the demands of an especially joyless bout of engineering before the concerns of architecture (utterly unlike the ravishing Jubilee line extension).

Thank goodness one singular, lowly structure means it at least gets a look-in here.

A folly, but the good kind*Although these do have their places.

6 comments
  1. You’re going to ignore the Victoria Line? But it has some fantastically groovy architecture! What about that big new glass wall at Brixton, or the big horse at Blackhorse Road? Shame.

    • To be honest, nice as they are, I don’t think either of them merits a place in the 150. A longer list, perhaps!

  2. SD said:

    I can see why the Victoria line isn’t mentioned much here but I’ve got to disagree a bit with the statement that it’s aesthetically uninspiring. I personally love it because a lot of the station fittings and even the big route maps on the tunnel walls are pretty much as they were when they were put in in 1969. I find the whole line very of its time – it’s clearly a product of the 60s era of post-war consensus politics and I do get the feeling it was built with a sense of public purpose and spirit behind it a lot more than on some other lines. Obviously those other lines do have a sense of public service about them, but the Victoria Line was conceived that way from the start, and it shows.

  3. Greg Tingey said:

    The Vic line was built down to a cost – it nearly didn’t get built at all.
    I love the individual wall-tile decorations, which tell you which station is which, without looking at the names – though some have been CHANGED over the years……
    Perhaps you should include the whole set of tile-pictures as “One” item ?????

  4. martindeutsch said:

    I think at least Stockwell’s mural deserves a look in. Otherwise, you’re right, the line is fairly uninspiring.

  5. bairdge said:

    Fascinating to see how the outlet to this ventilation shaft was treated – it has to be unique. I just hope as much care was lavished on its aerodynamics and acoustic characteristics.
    Fresh out of Glasgow University with a Masters in Mine Ventilation I spent a year (1962/63) wilh London Transport working on aspects of the design of the Victoria Line.
    One of the priorities was to ensure the residents of Gibson Square got a good night’s sleep, undisturbed by the noise of the ventilation system that was about to invade their quiet park. I recall spending quite a few nights with a sound level meter measuring the decibels emanating from existing tunnel extract ventilation installations, and the background noise levels at Gibson Square but left before the shaft was designed.
    Interesting to see how it turned out, though having spent the last 45 years teaching architecture students its faux-Palladian facade took me slightly by surprise. I trust the residents were pleased with the result.
    I’ll be happy to hear from anyone from London Transport who may recall my brief involvement with this and other projects – George.Baird@vuw.ac.nz

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