Jubilee line

Roundel-ramaWelcome to an exclusive peek at the new look of Doctor Who’s Tardis.

Yes, the roundels are back. All that steam-punk palaver is no more. Gone, the Heath Robinson-esque detritus and “charming” eccentricities. In their place, gorgeous steel curves, glittering symmetry and a hefty dollop of polish.

Well, you can but dream. Is it wrong to wander down the palatial pipes that connect the Jubilee line with the rest of Waterloo station and imagine you’re inside what people from the 20th century thought people in the 30th century might like? To draw a straight line in your mind from the most futuristic slice of the Underground all the way to the next millennium, with only the odd diversion to make way for the unexpected arrival of the Thames flood plain? To for once look forward fondly, instead of back wistfully?

This way to tomorrowTubular balls, you might think. And granted, you either love the shimmering fancies of this most modern of modernisations, or you probably loathe it. Grey can be a beautiful colour, but only if artfully deployed. When it’s there by default, it usually shouldn’t. But when it’s there by design, it’s a bit of a revelation. The stout walkways and nifty passages at Waterloo are one of the unexpected triumphs of the Jubilee line extension.

Unexpected, because Waterloo comes with the baggage of over 100 years of existence. It wasn’t magicked into being from scratch like your Southwarks or North Greenwichs. It laboured long under associations with congestion and gloom and long, long treks to get to the platforms. It still does, for many. But here’s why an encounter with its youngest, freshest offspring feels more like a joy than a chore. It is still, over a decade on from its opening, thrumming with the shock of the new.

Glide on timeHeavens, there’s even a travelator. And there’s only one other to be found on the whole Underground (which is also ace, naturally). What more of a beguiling gimmicky gesture towards modernity do you possibly need?

Take a stroll along this gleaming cylinder of motion, that seems to have tumbled through time from some point that’s always just beyond tomorrow. We should feel flattered merely to have the chance to pass through such a convenience of wonder. This is what public infrastructure can be like if trust is placed in someone dubbed the Medici of London Transport.

This is what the Underground can still be like.

Flowered upSometimes you have to peer at the Underground through half-closed eyes. Sometimes you have to compensate for its tendency towards shabbiness by imagining what things should look like, were all for the best in the best of all possible worlds, instead of regarding what’s actually in front of you. Sometimes greatness has to be given a little push from the wings before it reveals its full glory on the stage.

It’s often a matter of finding the right place to stand. From some angles, Dollis Hill looks forlorn. From others – the right ones – it looks sprightly. Visit on a grey day when the wind is howling across north London and all the trains seem to be those louche Metropolitan ones that don’t stop here, it’s not so much finding the right place to stand as finding the strength to stand at all.

But step out of the wind and crouch down by the flowerbeds – ignoring funny looks from passers-by – and the station starts to soothe rather than curdle the soul. OK, you’re cheating a bit. It’s not meant to be ogled from such an undignified posture. But the spectacle is there for the taking. And why pop a row of lovely plants on your platform if you don’t want them to be admired, even from a squatting position?

Canope wiltin'Dollis Hill’s stately waiting rooms aren’t quite as dapper as they once were. Despite a facelift in 2009, they can feel rather unloved. The curved facades, petite windows and huge, roaming canopies seem a bit out-of-sorts. The station wears its appeal very lightly. Perhaps if it hugged itself a little closer, its charms would appear more readily. Though given its unqualified exposure to the elements, hugging of any kind would be well-advised.

The waiting rooms themselves have a frustrating knack of falling victim to climate-related maladies. Sometimes it’s a leaky roof. Other times it’s damp. Again, a bit of imagination is required to appreciate how cosy it would be inside, were the rooms open and fit for use. Pressing your nose up against the frosted glass will only get you so far. About half an grimy inch, in fact.

It’s the weather that makes or breaks Dollis Hill. The extra sets of tracks either side of the platforms have left it victim to extremes of temperature. There are no adjacent forms of shelter, not even greenery, to stave off seasonal excesses. In high summer the place is like an open kiln; in the depths of winter, an Antarctic outpost.

The elegant platform buildings ought to sail through all of this like a luxury liner through a tempest. But at present they are taking in water and looking like they’re about to start listing. Hopefully one day the station can be viewed again with wide-eyed appreciation, rather than merely through a shrub darkly.

Park lifeI’m pretty confident this is, and will remain, the youngest thing to appear in my 150.

It’s so new, in fact, that it wasn’t even complete when I began this blog.

Finishing touches were not added to the redeveloped entrance to Green Park station until a few days before the start of London 2012. I know this for sure, as I walked through it every morning on my way to work.

Those were the best of times, with jovial publicity kiosks, swaggering zil lanes and a thousand magenta signs everywhere you turned. Green Park was one of the Underground interchanges that had been decreed a top hot spot, or possibly a hot top spot, and which was therefore to be avoided if possible throughout the Games. But this turned out to be an exaggeration, or perhaps more accurately a bit of preemptive back-covering. For Green Park station never once seized up, shut down or bowed out during the whole of London 2012.

Its glittering makeover had been concluded with the kind of timing of which Chris Hoy would be proud.

Any Portland in a stormYou cannot go wrong with Portland stone. I’ve yet to encounter any building that does not benefit from a coat of the stuff. I’d probably draw the line at a branch of Burger King, but then I’ve already drawn so many lines at Burger King I doubt I’d be able to even see through them for a glimpse of any  cladding.

Green Park’s brand new cloak of Portland was turned over to the sculptor John Maine, who created a stunning tapestry of asymmetrical shapes that feel like they are gliding serenely around the whole exterior of the station.

Sea for yourselfThe passing resemblance to fossils is deliberate. The sculptures go by the collective name Sea Strata, and are intended to both call attention to the material in which they have been created, and to the natural world represented by the location with which the station shares its name. I think the artist succeeds more with the former than the latter, but then I’m a sucker for a bit of infrastructure that wears its heart on its sleeve. Especially Portland sleeves.

There are very few Underground stations that seem to want you to touch its walls. Here, the hundreds of undulating patterns and textures positively invite a bit of hands-on exploration. I’ve never seen so many crannies on public view.

What you’ll find inside them is another matter – usually rotting leaf matter, if experience is anything to go by. But at least the sculptures are being noticed. I can’t imagine they competed well against the somewhat more over-stated offerings of London 2012. Now that’s all over, however, the faux fossils can go on doing what real fossils always do best. Existing.

A row of crannies