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Designs

Diamond lightsNow here’s a warning from history.

If nothing else, these platform signs at Moorgate are a testy reminder of the perils of a rebrand. The red diamond, had it been given the chance, might have persisted long enough to become stoically tolerated, then grudgingly accepted, then maybe even loved.

But it was doomed, and all thanks to bad timing. The diamond came too late. The roundel had already been conceived. Red discs were arcing out majestically across London when the Metropolitan line, as stubborn as ever, decided to launch its own logo. And worse, it was a logo similar enough to the roundel to make the Met’s behaviour look incredibly petty.

Which of course it was. Mere pettiness never stopped the Met doing anything. But as an exercise in brand awareness, let alone one of design aesthetics, it was amusingly hopeless.

Enjoy the silenceThe signs* make Moorgate station a wonderfully eerie if slightly creepy place. For they appear on platforms no longer used by trains, save the occasional service that needs to terminate here.

Yet the platforms don’t look abandoned. Far from it. They feel clean, attended, cared-for. It’s almost as if they were in constant use. But by whom?

There are no security barriers. The platforms are teasingly, tantalisingly, open to anyone. I doubt you’d be able to stroll very far before being stopped… but the temptation is there. As is the potential for misunderstanding. I saw one family start to walk along them, before realising their mistake. I kind of wish they’d have carried on, just to see what happened.

End of the lineI realise I like these platforms for the wrong reasons – there’s very little logic in loving something that is useless – but they don’t quite sit abandoned in splendid isolation.

Platforms five and six (above) might be completely cut off for trains (they used to be the terminus for Thameslink services) but they’ve taken on a new life as a sort of promotional space-cum-display area. At the time of writing they’re hosting a rather nice mural celebrating the Underground’s 150th anniversary. I hope there are plans for other displays in the future.

Platforms three and four are where you’ll find the diamond signs, casting their spiky glare. And both these and the mural are clearly visible from the Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City trains that call at platforms one and two. So rather than the old bits of Moorgate getting hidden from view and left to rot, they’ve become a “new” feature of the station: a partially-palatable slice of the past for digestion both now and into the future.

And there’s much to digest. But I’ll think I’ll pass on those diamonds. They’re just not my type(face).

Not my kind of type(face)*Cheers to Andrew (in the comments below) for noting that the signs were reintroduced for the 150th anniversary. Will they, along with the mural, survive beyond 2013?

In need of a lickThis is possibly the shabbiest thing I’ve included in this blog so far. And frustratingly, it would be one of the easiest and cheapest to remedy.

I’m not sure if there’s regulation paint available from TfL central stores for the decorating of roundels. Come to think of it, I’m not sure there’s even a central store. But oh, I wish there was one, from which a few tins could be sent up the Central line to give this lovely little roundel and its row of neighbours a fresh coating of red, white and blue.

Send for the red, white and blueFailing that, how about an initiative launched by the local community? Then again, I’m not sure there is much of a community along the Eastern Avenue. I see that Jessie J was born in Redbridge. Perhaps she could front a campaign and raise a bit of money doing what she does best*.

The station has been given Grade II-listed status, but I don’t know if this includes the bits round the back, where these weathered balustrades keep watch: Cold War relics with less menace than Checkpoint Charlie but just as much elan.

Equally gorgeous is the roundel-esque roof of the ticket hall, which foreshadows by a whole 40 years the kind of alluring mix of concrete and illumination you can find studded along the Jubilee line extension. It also looks like part of a studio set from an early-80s episode of Doctor Who, but I’m willing to forgive it that.

Perhaps when they come to do up the roundels out the back, they could make good in here as well.

Bigger on the inside*By not singing. I’d sponsor her.

Trumpeting the vertical“Like the architecture?” a Terminal 5 employee called out to me as I stood taking this photo. “Yes,” I replied, “absolutely.” “I hate it,” chipped in a passer-by, hurrying up an escalator. “That’s because you work here,” said the employee, firing me a knowing smile.

I felt a bit flattered. Not only had I been hailed by a member of staff who for once was not demanding I put away my camera or else chase me off the premises, I had also been made party to a bit of staff-room bitching. And I didn’t even work here. I had an “in”! And at an airport, a place where I usually feel thoroughly “out”!

To bond with a stranger over a slice of modern architecture is a rare treat. To do so at Heathrow Terminal 5, which trumpets its contemporary wares from every crevice, made me a bit dazed. Or to be accurate, even more dazed, because I’d felt a little out-of-sorts from the moment I’d arrived.

Terminal velocityDespite offering plenty of architecture to admire, this terminus-in-a-terminal stretches every sinew to make you not want to loiter.

Its glittering speck-free platforms and vast hushed walkways, not to mention its platoon of notices all urging you to move on and go somewhere else, conspire to make the spectator – as opposed to the traveller – feel rather uneasy.

This isn’t an environment conceived for contemplation. If you must wait, the atmosphere implies, do it sitting in a carriage, or up in the airport terminal itself. To stand still is to stand everyone else to attention.

Which is a shame, as the best way to appreciate the elegance of the station is to do just that. And not just stand still, but look up, for this is a majestic soaring construction that scoops light from the surface and deposits it dozens of metres below the ground, while simultaneously doing the same in reverse with people.

Going up…

Lift offArriving here after 45 minutes on the Underground is to emerge from a dark warren of horizontals into a rather eerie but enticing forest of verticals.

The station isn’t as magnificent a modern-day cathedral as some of those along the Jubilee line extension, such as Westminster and Canary Wharf. But it’s scale is just as persuasive as its design, it has a church-like enforced calm, plus there’s a curiosity value that repays – if you can manage it – a non-suspicious linger.

Especially when the Heathrow Express is just through the window:

Carriage clockedThis was the first time I had been anywhere near Heathrow for years – and the first time ever I had been to Terminal 5.

Along with not really knowing what to expect, I’d had to deal with the rising anxiety of setting foot in one of the world’s most scrutinised airports with absolutely no intention of getting on a plane or meeting people who had just got off one. Ripe for scrutiny, in other words.

Which is precisely what happened, though not in the form of an interrogation, more a jovial chat. Nonetheless after about 20 minutes I wanted to leave. I had a hankering for fresh air and the sight of a brick.

Besides, all those semiotics were doing my head in. Now there’s a phrase I haven’t needed to use since back at university.