Slip away from London as dusk nears and head westwards towards Metro-land. Ride the train towards Uxbridge and you’ll see how once more the Underground offers some of its most tranquil sensations when it has shaken free of its titular lair. The line rises high above street level, poking its nose over rooftops and chimneys and the tallest of trees. Step off at West Harrow and you’ll find views worth lingering on the platform for.
The station building itself can’t really hold a candle to these provincial panoramas. It selflessly defers to its surroundings, helpfully distracting you from its less than notable design – only to try and redeem itself by co-opting the sunset into a kind of backcloth against which to display its tiny wares, like a thimble salesman setting up pitch in front of Westminster Abbey.
I suppose there are worse examples of less used and even lesser loved out-of-town stations. But there aren’t many better examples of ones that make up for their deficiencies on the ground with such breathtaking sideshows in the sky.
Darkness can be just as attractive as light on the Underground.
In the hands of the right architect, it gets deployed for mathematical as well as sensory effect. It becomes more than something to be accommodated expediently, and instead resembles something to be manipulated skilfully – and daringly.
The gigantic ticket hall at Eastcote is one such an example. The darkness doesn’t cling to the shoulders of people passing in and out, or lurk pointedly in the corners of your eyes. It’s only there if you want it to be there. Yet its presence isn’t an accident. It is part of the design.
Brick, concrete and glass: the holy trinity of 1930s-era London Underground. But it’s modernity, not divinity, that guided the construction of this cunningly beautiful station, both in principle and practice. Light pours in; darkness pours out. The enormous glass panels are dazzling whichever and wherever you look at – and through – them:
The secret to all of this? Height. Look how tall the ticket hall stands. Think how much brightness is deliberately allowed inside. Then consider why it is that so many of the greatest Underground stations reach so far above ground. There’s a sort of inverse proportionality going on here, but I’m stumped if I can express it as an equation.
Well, other than light + dark x Charles Holden = something profoundly illuminating.
I’ll get me ‘Cote.
I’ve already praised the views within Rayners Lane. The views without are a different kind of treat:
The ticket hall resembles a ginormous cube, studded with dozens of neatly aligned rectangular windows running up each side. The building reaches to what could be described as a preposterously unnecessary height. I’m describing it as a preposterous necessity.
Not only is it stylish, trim and full of character. It also possesses Tardis-like qualities – and I mean that in the true sense of the word, family sci-fi fans.
In other words, when the ticket hall is viewed externally and then internally, it seems to exist in two different places at the same time. So much light pours in through what must number over a hundred individual window panes that, once you’ve stepped through the entrance, your surroundings seem more capacious than when you inspected them from the outside.
The grids within grids and cascades of quadrilaterals make it feel a bit like you’ve stumbled into a multi-dimensional sheet of graph paper.
Step back outside, and you wonder again how what you experienced a few seconds ago matches what you are seeing now.
If only Doctor Who had a spaceship that looked like this.