Tag Archives: Charles Holden

HeptangleI don’t know much about geometry, but I know what I like.

Nonagons, meh. Decagons: too much. Pengatons? They don’t go far enough. A heptagon, however, is a tangle that I’m very happy to get into.

It’s the heppest of all polygons. It has just the right number of sides to allow mathematics to appear beautiful. When you hold one in your hand – in the guise of a 20 or 50 pence piece – it just feels right. Not overdone or underdone. Not fussily complicated or disappointingly sparse. Just right.

And when you get to see one that’s large enough to walk all the way round… well, you know that something is right.

Go, West!The feast of heptagons inside Hounslow West station is toasted on the outside by something of equal majesty. There are hardly any buildings in London that have these alluring dimensions. There are hardly any in the UK, for that matter. Are seven-sided shapes really considered so unruly and disruptive as to be sent to the back of architectural class? Or told to go and stand down the other end of the corridor – in this instance, almost the very end of the Piccadilly line?

No matter. At least this one exists, and in such fine fettle. The building lets slip discreet pulses of flair in all of its seven directions. In bright sunshine it sparkles. In grey rain it beckons and reassures. And its colours strike at your heart no matter what the climate. This is style and symmetry of a hugely rare but high order.

Race you round the sides. First one back gets to peek through the round(el) window.

Through the round(el) window

Good Manor(s)There’s a bit of sibling rivalry up the western end of the Piccadilly line. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as a “who’s biggest” competition, even though I’ve just done so. But there’s definitely some pseudo-grandstanding going on. It’s quite possibly pseudist as well, for when you’ve not one but two tumescences prodding the sky a few streets apart in the same London borough, it’s tape measures at dawn.

I can’t find details of just how tall the tower at Boston Manor stands in comparison to its brother down the road at Osterley. Judging purely by photos, Osterley edges it. But that’s largely because of the pole that sits on top of the spike that sits on top of the tower. It’s absolutely shameless. Though if you’re going for elevation as well as style, there’s no point in going off half-cock.

Boston stumpBoth stations were designed by Stanley Heaps from briefings by Charles Holden.

How fortuitous for a lazy blogger that two of the greatest architects to have worked on the Underground had such pun-friendly surnames. But you won’t find me beholden to heaping such linguistic fancies into what is already an over-ripe textual stew. Their efforts, as always, speak for themselves – or rather, sing for themselves, because Boston Manor is what happens when buildings croon.

The music you can hear is that of the 1930s: of soft, sad ballads; of frantic shape-throwing and frugging; of get-us-away-from-here toe-tappers; and of stoical, cheek-to-cheek farewells.

Boston Manor at night was used for one of the images for the Royal Mail’s set of commemorative stamps marking the Underground’s 150th anniversary. It was a superb choice, but not just for the station’s enchanting design and sophisticated character. This is architecture that radiates a mood as well as a movement; one of weary arrivals, of buoyant departures, of lonely vigils and late-night thoughts.

And yes, it does all those things even in brilliant sunshine.

Anyone up for a tea party?

That's the story of, that's the glory of love

Place of worshipFor around 1,000 years, Christianity had a monopoly on big buildings full of silence and high windows. Then the 20th century happened, and the London Underground decided it wanted a helping of the same architectural brew.

The Piccadilly line serves out portions of stuff at intervals a damn sight more frequent than Sunday communion. One of the most intoxicating can be found at Northfields, in the guise of a building that is more like a secular cathedral than a ticket hall.

High windowsWhat is it about this place that makes it not merely attractive, but mesmerising? A clue is in the design of the acoustics. Sound ascends upwards, giving the environment even more of a hallowed feel. Even if you did try to speak loudly, it would carry only a short distance.

This has a very palpable calming effect, evident both in yourself and in the body language of those around you. Just as it’s socially unacceptable to run through a public library, so you wouldn’t, mustn’t, leg it through Northfields ticket hall. A brisk walk is at the limit of what is permissible. There aren’t any notices proclaiming as much; you just know it to be so. The building is its own watchman. Look, even the telephones have vanished:

Cut off - permanentlyThe rejuvenating, unhurried atmosphere of Northfields makes it a brother in spirit of Turnpike Lane. You won’t be surprised to hear they were both designed by the same man (yes, him again).

The exterior is compelling in a different way: more commanding than consoling, and nowhere near as intimidating, crumbling or trussed-up as your traditional place of worship:

The North' Ship Outside, a bright, sharp statement of modernism, bristling with charm and immediacy.

Inside, a cooled, dimmed sanctuary between where you’ve been and what’s to come.

Cue Philip Larkin:

It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.

Stand in silence