Archive

Piccadilly line

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.

No, you're not going to get any arse jokes hereI don’t know much about football, but I know what I like. And that’s a new rule that means goalposts get moved an inch wider apart for every minute of extra time until someone scores. Oh, and teams should be able to bring an additional person on to the pitch, again for each minute of extra time. Basically I’d like to see pitches with ginormo-sized goals and about 50 players. Perhaps this music could be played at the same time.

You think these suggestions would make a mockery of the beautiful game? It’s SURELY no more of a joke than having players [finger-pointing rant alert!] earn more in an hour than I do in a year, or something like that. Sigh.

Anyway, what I really really like about football is there’s an Underground station that shares its name with one of the most famous clubs in the country, and which has a staggeringly beautiful roundel mosaic above its entrance:

Your arse an' allIt’s almost too good to be stuck on the wall of a station in a quiet suburban street along which crowds of people pass at best only once a week.

In fact, it is too good to be stuck here. It deserves to be seen by as many folk as possible, and that’s never going to happen in Highbury, even if the eponymous club became the best in the world on the same day Morrissey decided to move in next door.

The scale of the mosaic would seem perverse and its craftsmanship ostentatious were it not so sense-bubblingly beautiful. It was put up during the glory years of the 1930s (and yes, it’s not often you see that combination of words arranged in that particular sequence). It gains even more points for having replaced yet another of the uber-ubiquitous ox-blood tiled exteriors, of which there are still ox-bloody too many.

If movable goalposts and ever-expanding teams aren’t on the agenda of the next Football Association AGM, can I suggest a works outing to Arsenal station? It’s the closest they’ll get to seeing any true artistry this season.

Join our club