Tag Archives: Leslie Green

Capital effortThere are several of these sprinkled around London, but the one at Russell Square is particularly well-preserved and prominent. Embedded in Leslie Green’s stubbornly perfunctory and visually peakish facade, the logo radiates freshness and imagination like sunlight sneaking through a crack in the Berlin Wall. An interloper from the drawing board of a visionary rather than a functionary, it can’t help but catch and retain the eye.

What is it that makes, that made, this logo so potent, so intriguing?

Its antiquity, for starters. It has a quality of being ancient, of hailing from the far distant past. Yet it’s hard to tell from how far back it belongs. This gives it a flavour of mystery as well as heritage. Could it be before or after the war? And which war? Is it even the 20th century?

There’s also something a bit exotic about it. It’s a typeface that doesn’t feel instinctively native to the UK. Where has it come from? Where has it gone to? It’s not passed into the common lexicon. You won’t find it adorning anything new – or anything relatively new either.

But above all, it’s enormously alluring. This is a typeface to fall in love with. It knows it’s attractive, but lets you know in a coy rather than charmless fashion, which just makes it all the more irresistible. Forget having your name in lights. How about having your name in these particular sans-serif capitals?

It’s also a typeface to fall in love under.  A first swoon beneath this kind of sign? There’s little that could be more provincially sentimental.

Facts, rather than fancy, reveal that as with most exotica, the logo blazed brightly for a period, then fell out of favour sharply. Thankfully it gave way not to something worse, but something even better. Father and son eye each other warily outside Russell Square, positioned at right angles in a way that flatters neither. But then neither belongs next to the other. It’s like putting two Dr Whos in the same show and expecting double the fun.

Facts also reveal that the typeface does indeed date from before the war – but the first world war, not the second, and therefore more of a veteran than its slightly futurist style suggests. It’s as old as 1908, the year the Underground got tired of the 20th century breathing down its neck and decided it needed a trademark. But the network ended up not only conceiving its own logo but its own emotion. For here was where the romance of the Underground first spluttered into existence – a romance that continues to this day.

Jousting typefaces

This-a-wayI’ve been a bit sniffy on this blog about the Underground stations designed by Leslie Green.

They’re the ones with the dark red exteriors made up of hundreds of glazed terracotta blocks. There are dozens of them around the city, and you’re bound to encounter a few of them on even the most fleeting of visits to London. Which is precisely why I have a bit of a problem with Green. To sum up what I’ve discussed before, if you’ve seen one of them, you don’t really need to bother with any others. The differences are superficial rather than significant, prompted by expediency rather than imagination.

Sometimes, however, a variety of riches can be found inside one of Green’s otherwise character-less creations.

Holloway Road has a good collection of his signature work for the interior of an Underground station. Both platforms were given a long-overdue refurbishment in the late noughties, which certainly benefited the tiling. Green’s trademark ‘Way Out’ and ‘No Exit’ designs for the walls of the platforms look in a pretty good state, considering they were first put up in 1906:

Well, obviouslyBut for once, a Leslie Green station is more than the sum of its predictable, rudimentary parts.

As well as those familiar mock signs (based on his design for the ticket windows in the booking hall), Green sprinkles Holloway Road with a bit of glamour: more Cricklewood than Hollywood, as Ernie Wise would say, but still rather beguiling.

There are very swish ‘To The Trains’ signs in the little passageways between the adjacent platforms:

To the trains!And there’s a much larger treat in the shape of the track-side wall of both platforms, which have been left completely free of advertising.

The effect is to highlight, dramatically and memorably, more of that instantly elegant original signage:

Bare necessitiesI’m not sure how many other places on the Underground can boast such a sparse, yet also so attractive a contrast. I know the effect is much the greater thanks to the majority of stations having these walls absolutely covered with adverts. But even taken by itself this is bold and, certainly for Green, unexpected.

Perhaps I’ve been a little too hard on the old bugalugs. Not a lot, mind. Just a little.

Holler: way!

"We've had a letter from a Mrs Trellis..."In previous entries I’ve been a bit down on the efforts of the architect Leslie Green, and not without cause. When you’ve seen one of his two dozen or so creations, there’s little point seeing any more. But I’m prepared to make an exception for Mornington Crescent.

[Cue enormously intrusive cheer from an over-enthusiastic Radio 4 quiz show audience.]

"And teams, today I want you to remember: no transversing on the diagonal"The reason I’m making an exception is because of its location.

The station is not boxed in on all sides by other buildings, thereby rendering its uniform design and texture all the more joyless. It is not undermined by its own limited aspirations, as so many of Green’s buildings seem to be. And it is not cowed by its surroundings, in the process diminishing its personality still further.

Instead it sits grandly at the bottom of Camden High Street, straddling a junction that allows it not one but two grand facades, which the sun flatters and to which your eye is drawn no matter from what direction you approach.

Mornington Crescent station is great in spite of, not because of, its architecture. It also, unlike its architect’s work elsewhere on the Underground, and the panel game to which it has given its name, makes perfect sense.

Pipe down, Radio 4 quiz show fans!