Zone 3

A right royal treatRoyal parks are ten-a-penny in London, and they’re all much of a muchness. Grass, basically. Maybe a monument. Someone pissing against a tree.

Park Royal, however, is one of a kind. And it outranks anything vaguely regal-sounding in the entire city – and that includes carriages, babies, those godawful face masks, and the Queen.

Its entrance is grander than any palace, more dazzling than any crown, more uplifting than any pageant, and more thrilling than the twitching of any uterus.

As far as I can tell there’s never been a fly-past, a million-strong crowd waiting outside, or Brian May standing on top playing the guitar.

I would happily stand on top playing the guitar, but I fear a repertoire that encompasses everything from Radio Song to the Marrow Song would prompt any passing million-strong crowd to subject me to a kind of Wicker Man-style immolation inside the tower.

Geometry-a-go-goIf you can have such a thing as a garland of geometry, this is it.

The station looks like the toy box of a five-year-old with a 55-year-old’s sensibilities. It shimmers and swirls with flair and derring-do, even though it is utterly immobile (but oh how I wish that circular platform revolved, like the old restaurant at the top of the BT Tower).

It’s not the work of Charles Holden, but rather Herbert Welch and Felix James Lander: a couple of architects Holden sub-let the work to in the mid-1930s, content they’d do the job in a “suitable” style. Which they did – effortlessly, and not with a little nerve.

If Holden wasn’t jealous, he should have been. Park Royal challenges (but doesn’t quite topple) the likes of Arnos Grove and Southgate for a place in Zone 1 of the Underground firmament.

Were I to ever become the benevolent dictator of Greater London, and I think there’s still time, this station might well be my seat of rule. It’s got the swagger, it’s got the class… and look, there’s even a tower in which to lock up anyone who opposes Crossrail or HS2*.

To the tower!*Only joking. I’d stand on top of the tower, look down on them, and giggle. Before playing another chorus of the Marrow Song.

Park and recreationThis is my idea of parks and recreation.

A turn around the cool, sighing interior of this station is more than a match for a ramble across one of London’s postal districts packed like squares of wheat.

You can breathe deeply in a place like this. The sense of height and empty space is liberating, and you can’t help but draw it down deep into your lungs.

Some of that feeling is done by sleight-of-hand: a deft architectural trick, a delicious equation (always the best kind) of artificial light and geometry.

But some of it is by design, and literally so. Circles and straight lines might be the everyday fundamentals of engineering, but applied with a dab of genius, they can be fundamentally marvellous every day:

Drum majorIt’s another of Charles Holden’s buildings that was inspired, like Arnos Grove, by the mouthwatering modernism of the wheelbarrows-full-of-money Weimar-era Germany.

I’d love it to survive for a millennium: the ultimate cold dish of revenge to serve upon the “1000-year Reich” that stamped Weimar out of existence, just around the time Chiswick Park was built.

I was late getting awayEven in rush hour this station would still feel empty. For every circulating throng of people, there’s four times as much air doing the same thing. Not that you’d have much time, or cause, to notice it when you’re rushing for a train.

It will leave its tingling imprint, however, somewhere in the back of your mind as you try to adjust to the suddenly compact and stuffy confines of a carriage.

That, and the thought of high windows, the sun-comprehending glass, and the deep blue air.

High windows

Stratford upon havenOK, it’s not a proper Underground station. In fact, Underground trains make up barely a third of what passes through its walls.

But the present incarnation of Stratford would not exist were it not for the extension of the Jubilee line in the 1990s, and that’s enough of a reason to admit it here.

You want more reasons? Why, in the words of the poster for Thunderball: look up, look down – and look out! Stratford does it everywhere!

Watching you watching meThat’s yours truly in the centre, trying to capture some of what Ian Fleming would call the “gunmetal splendour” of this beast of a building.

Chris Wilkinson and Jim Eyre started with a few dashes on a pencil sketch of the roof in 1994 and ended up delivering a resplendent full stop to the Jubilee line in 1999. Or maybe semi-colon is a more apt punctuation point, given Stratford’s purpose as part-terminus, part-gateway to everywhere from mainland Europe to Westfield shopping centre.

In keeping with Thunderball’s tag-line, an exclamation mark would just as well suffice. For this is at heart a confoundedly beautiful place, defying the tangle of lines and tumult of passengers that threaten discord, and instead offering a sort of harmonious, lyrical melee.

It’s all down, or rather up, to the roof.

The roof provides the scope for that dazzling glass facade, reflecting not just you but seemingly half of Stratford and a decent chunk of the sky. It allows for the kind of jutting architectural flourishes featured in the first photo. And its interior curves help to soften an atmosphere that’s already been made to feel as open and airy as is possible in the 20th busiest station in the UK:

The great curveThe multi-level layout plus the enormous mezzanine allow anyone predisposed to milling or moping to get up close to the roof, but also to gaze on people below.

I found that during London 2012 those views down on to the station floor afforded just as much of a spectacle than anything going on inside the Olympic Park. But then watching something working by design, as opposed to luck, chance and accident, is always more preferable. Especially if you’re a non-sportsman.

Parallel linesFrom whatever angle, even when all you’re looking at are angles, Stratford station roof is the hat perched jauntily sideways on the head of the Underground.

You can see for miles. You can also see four miles’ of people. But either is fine.

Look out!

Full stop