For 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.
What 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:
The 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:
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.