Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sudbury Hill Station, London

It’s well known now how in the early decades of the 20th century London Underground’s (later London Transport’s) head Frank Pick changed the face of London’s transport network by presiding over a ground-breaking redesign. A new typeface (designed by Edward Johnston) for the signs, the improved ‘roundel’ symbol (also by Johnston), the diagrammatic and wonderfully clear tube map (which, in its latest incarnation, still guides us around), and a remarkable series of new stations serving newly developing suburbs from Sudbury to Cockfosters were among the results.

The stations brought a very special version of modern architecture to London. It was the time when Le Corbusier’s work was becoming well known here and the Bauhaus was bringing a new rigour to design in Germany. But Frank Pick, and his architect Charles Holden, looked farther afield for inspiration. They were taken by the work of Scandinavian architects, especially Swede Gunnar Asplund, whose public buildings combined Classical proportions with an awareness of modernism and a winning use of brick. This Scandinavian influence, combined with Holden’s genius for massing and his way with materials produced a series of outstanding station buildings, the most famous of which is Arnos Grove, recently celebrated by the Guardian.

Here’s one of the less well known examples, Sudbury Hill, built in 1932. It’s a happy combination of concrete and brick, straight lines and curves, window and wall. Johnston’s letters are still announcing the name clearly, Holden’s generous metal-framed windows are still lighting the interior, and the station is still streets ahead of the dull imitation of a brick, mansard-roofed terrace that has sprung up to the right. Buildings like this, modern and friendly, spacious and clearly signed, get as near as one can to making real the dream of mass public transport that’s a pleasure to use.

1 comment:

Peter Ashley said...

I love this building. Particularly the way both roundel and lettering has been incorporated into the front elevation.Pity about the block of pretend French Rennaissance flats hovering about over its shoulder.