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Architecture

Toppermost of the Popper OstAh, if only this really were the top of a London Underground skyscraper, its summit boasting restaurants, swimming pools, viewing platforms and the entrance to a giant chute down which you could slide all the way to the station entrance.

It’s still utterly spectacular, despite possessing none of these things and being the width merely of a mildly stout man.

In fact, I’m not sure you can get inside it at all. I suspect it is entirely filled with concrete. But no matter, for it caps what is an extraordinary tower of beauty sitting in a location of brow-furrowing ordinariness.

Os-ter-ley, ha ha ha ha ha hThe tower’s practical job seems to be as a landmark to help people approaching from a distance. Its job as a piece of architecture is more subjective, and probably rests on your view of European design of the 1930s. That, and whether you find a massive pile of bricks and concrete appealing. Which they are, obviously.

The station was the work of Stanley Heaps, following the style developed by Charles Holden up at the other end of the Piccadilly line. It’s a gloriously imaginative, chic and daring prong of modernism. From a certain height, and in a certain era, it resembles a huge electrical jack or futuristic transmitter, the kind up which diabolical masterminds would send messages to testicle-shaped aliens, and from which monsters and maidens would dangle.

At night those panels on the side of the concrete obelisk light up, making it look even more other-worldly – yet still attractive, even alluring. It’s such a simple idea: build a great big tower then make it even higher. But it’s one that also manages to sum up the combined, intricate appeal of the Underground: its impulsive ambition, its stylish audacity, its pride in being noticed, its joy in being admired.

Not bad for a poke in the sky.

A poke in the sky

The power of sevenYou can find beauty through scale on the Underground: noisy, powerful treats, things that soar and sparkle and make great play of doing an awfully marvellous job over an awfully marvellous area. But you can also find beauty through delicacy, where it’s not so much the size that dazzles but the details. Where less is more.

The interior of the ticket hall at Hounslow West is a bountiful treasure trove of detail. Its contents reward both the passing glance and the lingering stare. From the concept of the design to the hue of the fittings, it’s adorable – to the 128.5714286th degree.

A visit ought to be on the curriculum of every GCSE Maths and Design student, regardless of what any education secretary thinks of these kinds of buildings.

Heaps of enjoymentLight, geometry, colour, architecture, iconography, upholstery and style: the seven pillars of this heptagonal hall of wonder.

Two more Hs were involved in its creation: Holden (Charles) and Heaps (Stanley) worked together in a rare collaboration on the station, which opened in July 1931 – the same month as Sudbury Town. What a feast for the eyes of Piccadilly line passengers.

It’s as much the interaction of all the different features as the concept itself that makes this place so enchanting. There must be dozens of heptagons in total, in both two and three dimensions, which jostle and jive alongside each other as if at a polygon-themed disco. The bright blues and reds of the roundels offset exquisitely the muted tones of the walls and ceiling, and are as gorgeous as any jewel to be found in Hatton Garden. And just look at those shadows:

Hip-tagonalCould the exterior of Hounslow West possibly match the bewitching poise of its interior? You know the answer to that question. And it merits a separate blog entry to boot.

A case of cup-olaThere are a, ahem, coupla’ reasons to visit Clapham Common station.

The first is the single island platform, identical to the one at Clapham North, both of which are the only such layouts still in existence on deep-level Underground lines.

The second is above ground. It’s the intriguingly (some might say dangerously) exotic confection that sits over the main entrance:

Cosmopolitan twitchingsIt’s rare to find the Underground flirting with anything so continental. It’s even rarer to find it getting away with it. Perhaps it’s the logo that’s key. Its reassuring typeface and dash of provincial antiquity  offsets any passing architectural indulgence.

But don’t worry. On encountering the cupola, if you’re prone to suffer from cosmopolitan stirrings, you can always nip on to the nearby common to relieve any tautness.

My cup runneth 'olaThis is the only decent bit of Clapham Common station to break ground. There’s a small, rather lumpen pavilion on the other side of the road that contains another way down to the ticket hall, but it can’t compete with this fey treat.

There’s a faint whiff of Catholic chintz about it. If the pope were to endorse this kind of architecture, his popularity might get another unlikely boost. But given its devoutly secular antecedents, I’m not so sure. Could Francis ‘ford this cupola? I suspect his fellow cardinals would prefer apocalypse – now.

Yet even if this very-late Victorian fancy (c. 1900) doesn’t tickle yours, there’s something hanging inside to twitch even the devoutest of souls:

Arrow right through meCupola? I barely knew her!