Tag Archives: Southgate

An uplighter shade of paleI was chased out of Southgate station for taking this picture.

It’s bemusing how arbitrary the “rules” about photography inside the Underground are implemented. In most locations staff turn a blind eye. In some they even look on with encouragement, especially at the station I’ve earmarked for number 50 (spoilers!).

But there have been a few – and only a few – where stern gazes have been topped with stern words, and on one occasion, here at Southgate, stern actions. I was followed back up the escalator and off the premises, my behaviour judged disruptive enough to merit the kind of treatment I’d expect to see  meted out to a bottle-wielding stoner than a camera-wielding loner.

The whole episode rather spoiled my appreciation of the uplighters at Southgate, which only now, several months later, I realise are utterly gorgeous.

Fifty-two steps to heavenThey are originals – survivors of the inter-war years, stoical and mute, speaking volumes but saying nothing. They radiate history as well as illumination. They inject a dose of the exotic into the otherwise pedestrian business of moving between daylight and the deep.

Slack, drool... illuminations!They are also products of the delicious imagination of Charles Holden, the man who dreamed up the station’s brave, eternally-beguiling exterior.

An exterior I got to know rather better than the interior.

Bang the drumThe more I write about the Jubilee line, the more I realise it is one of London’s finest collections of contemporary architecture. The stations that were either redeveloped or built from scratch to form the extension of the line between Westminster and Stratford are among the city’s most bewitching.

Pa-ra-pa-pa-pumThe enormous glass drum that forms the centrepiece of Canada Water is another example. Its scale and ambition is matched by its class and intelligence. Light pours down into the heart of the station, creating a beautiful patchwork of shadows, shades and silhouettes.

Around the edge of the drum, vast walkways and staircases circle up, around and below each other, affording plenty of views of the whole interior (should you want to sample them) while coaxing you ever downwards into the building’s bustling heart:

Fade to greyI particularly like the necessarily-huge lid on top of the drum, which reminds me a little of the similarly futuristic look of Southgate station.

A full lidPlaudits must go to the architects Buro Happold, who designed the drum and whose portfolio embraces everything from the Millennium Dome and the Lowry Centre in Salford to Ascot racecourse and the Robert Burns birthplace museum.

It’s yet another extraordinary creation in an otherwise ordinary setting.

These Jubilee line stations march across south-east London in a parade of glory. It’s hard to think we’re likely to see such a marriage of investment and imagination again.

Window on the world

Suburbanisation of the DaleksFrom the tip of the roof downwards, Southgate is something very special.

It holds its own against fierce competition from pretty much every station along the northern end of the Piccadilly line, which is easily the most rewarding stamping ground for Underground architecture. And it does this by not merely being another example of Charles Holden’s faultless skill for coupling beauty with design, but by being unique.

There is literally no other station like this on the whole of the network.

The Underground has landedThere’s a sense here that Holden set out to push as far as he dared the expectations for and acceptance of how an Underground station should appear in a suburban high street.

You might think he failed, or that he went too far. I think he succeeds with aplomb.

Agreed, it does look like Southgate station has landed from some other time and place, even some other world. But it doesn’t feel out of time or out of place. Maybe that’s because we’ve all got so used to seeing this kind of extraordinary architecture in ordinary surroundings. But perhaps that’s all the more reason to continue to draw attention to it – and to appreciate and marvel at it even more, Dalek stalk and all:

Another 'Holden Globe award' winnerIt opened in 1933 and is now Grade II* listed. There’s no steel or iron here: just brick, concrete and glass, singing in perfect harmony.

The interior, which I’ll cover another time, and which explains how that dazzling circular roof appears to be entirely self-supporting, was renovated in 2008. The majestic exterior is pretty much unchanged.

It’s not something you can easily take in just by standing still. If you’re like me – which you’re probably glad you’re not – you’ll end up walking all the way round the outside. Twice.

Oh, and as if we weren’t spoiled enough, Holden throws this in to boot:

Look! Over here!It’s a massive roundel adjacent to the station entrance, that in turn supports an enormous illuminated turret – just in case you hadn’t noticed the Underground calls here.

Now if only Transport for London licensed desk lamps that looked like this…