1932 - London Underground Station
Suburban expansion between the wars was closely linked with the provision of public transport. Many developers collaborated with transport authorities to ensure that bus or rail facilities would be available when their housing estates went on the market. London Transport built some outstanding Underground stations for commuters, amid surroundings that were, as yet, largely open fields. They were quickly engulfed by a sea of suburbia. What kind of statement was London Transport hoping to make by adopting this building style?
On the initiative of one of its most senior officials, Frank Pick, London Transport became a leader in many aspects of industrial and graphic design - its famous posters, of course, or the brilliantly economical sans serif typeface designed by Edward Johnston in 1915 and still used (in slightly modified form) today. In 1930 Pick took the architect Charles Holden on a tour of northern Europe and the influence of contemporary Scandinavian and German styling emerged in Holden's subsequent designs for the Underground stations at Sudbury, Arnos Grove, Oakwood and elsewhere. In brick, concrete and glass, he created buildings that far outshone their uninspiring settings among the avenues and crescents of semi-detached suburbia. In contrast to mock-Tudor gables and Arts and Crafts tiles, his stations were modernistic, clean and smooth - basically 'a box with a lid'. Every aspect of detail was considered -the design of the station seats, constructed around the LT roundel, was accorded the same importance as the entrance. Practicalities such as passenger flow were orchestrated with equal care, so that everything merged to create a working building that was a satisfyingly unified whole. Pevsner praises 'the delicacy of detail... the beauty and clarity of proportion' for this was architecture on a reassuringly human scale, even if the residents of Pinner petitioned LT in 1939 for something that, they felt, would better 'conform to the medieval character of the village'. Compromised to some degree by later additions and alterations - though Arnos Grove survives in excellent condition as a Grade 1A listed building -these stations are among the most outstanding examples of public-sector architecture of the inter-war years. The Southern Railway tried to do something similar in concrete, succeeding handsomely at Richmond, Chessington North and Surbiton, but being less than impressive elsewhere.