Thursday, 17 May 2012

feature : Going Underground

Charles Henry Holden (1875-1960)

photo thanks to : charlesholden

Every day over 3 million people use the London Underground. For the vast majority going to work is an unpleasant drudgery, full of stress, selfishness and imposed haste. It does not have to be like that. Take a moment to look around you. There are some architectural jewels to be found.

Charles Holden was born in 1875 in Bolton. After leaving school he briefly worked as a railway clerk in St. Helens, a poignant beginning to a subject matter that would later become his legacy.

At 16 years of age his first step on the architectural footplate was in his brother-in-law’s practice. In 1899 joined H. Percy Adams Architects as Chief Assistant, where he would later become a partner and remain for the rest of his life.

Charles was a shy, modest man and his career spans a dramatic time of change. Led by the fashion of the day, his early, celebrated designs are at first glance traditional.  Look more closely at the massing and proportions and you can see the first signs of him breaking free.

He believed that the principal aim of design was to achieve “fitness for purpose”, stripped down from any unnecessary architectural adornment.

In 1923 Holden would get his chance to demonstrate this when he was commissioned by Frank Pick, champion of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL), to design a façade for Westminster Tube Station, quickly followed by seven new stations on the City and South London Railway (now Northern Line).

Over the next 16 years, Holden and Pick worked closely together on integrated designs for new stations, refurbishment of old stations, new facades, bus shelters, platform benches and even the UERL headquarters itself.

The early stations typically included double-height ticket halls, clad in Portland stone framing a glazed screen, each incorporating 2 thin columns and the Underground logo. The latter stations (notably after a 1930 trip to Northern Europe & Scandinavia) followed new principles of either a tall, rectangular or circular brick box with a large strip of windows and a concrete flat roof.

Subsequent architects tried to follow Holden’s design template, but few could match his attention to detail.  In total Holden is attributed to the design of 50 Underground stations, the majority still in use today, most are Grade II listed whilst one, St. James’s Park, is Grade I. The Jubilee Line extension aside, we are unlikely to ever see such a prolific period of beautifully detailed railway architecture again.

So, next time, don’t get caught up in the rush to work. Look up and respect one man’s dream for a commute of calm !

by Darren Maddison 

Tooting Bec (1926)

South Wimbledon (1926)

Piccadilly Circus (1928)

Sudbury Hill (1931)

Arnos Grove (1932)

Southgate (1932)

Boston Manor (1934)

photos thanks to : urbandesign

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