A brief introduction to

Amazing Architecture on the Underground

London Underground has a history of thoughtful and thorough design and detail

London Underground is the world’s oldest metro system: the first journey took place on 10 January 1863, when the Metropolitan Railway opened to the public. On its first day, 38,000 people took the 18 minute journey between Paddington and Farringdon.

The underground has a history of thoughtful and thorough design and detail; from the commission of the Johnston typeface in 1913, to Harry Beck’s iconic 1930s design for the tube map, to the recent redesign of station staff uniforms by HemingwayDesign.

Here we explore some of its architectural highlights. 

1. Early 20th century Arts and Crafts

Colour photo of exterior of Holloway Road Underground station and members of the public on the pavement outside the station.
Holloway Road Station © Ewan Munro

Commissioned in 1903 to design 50 new stations, Leslie Green developed a distinctive style, which he adapted to fit different sites, and which will be familiar to visitors to north London in particular. The design included oxblood coloured tiles on the exterior and green tiles within the ticket halls. Good examples can be found throughout the Piccadilly and Northern Lines, notably Belsize Park, Covent Garden and Holloway Road.

Black and white photo of Mornington Crescent Station and almost empty pavements outside it. Road in the foreground is empty of traffic.
A view from Hampstead Road showing the newly constructed Mornington Crescent tube station still sporting builders placards and with two men painting signs onto the doorway. (1907) © Historic England Archive

2. Metroland

Black and white photo of the entrance to Baker Street Underground station photographed between 1960 and 1972.
The Underground sign for Baker Street station, Marylebone Road © Historic England Archive

The massive expansion of suburbia through North West London and into Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Middlesex was intrinsically linked to the expansion of the tube. The architect Charles W Clark was responsible for 25 stations along the Metropolitan line, adopting classical principles for stations in central London (such as the Grade II* Baker Street, and Chiltern Court, which sits over it) and more vernacular styles in the suburbs (such as at the Grade II listed station at Watford).

Colour photo of Watford station with bicycles secured to railings in the foreground.
Watford Station via Wiki Commons

3. Charles Holden

Hanger Lane station photographed in sunshine.
Exterior view of Hanger Lane Station © Historic England Archive

Of the 71 listed London Underground stations, 31 were built to designs by Charles Holden, either alone or in partnership with other prolific architects of the 1920s and 1930s. Holden’s career spanned architectural styles, and his work includes the London underground headquarters (including St James’s Park station underneath), bold modernism across the Piccadilly Line and the Soviet inspired Gants Hill in north east London.

Tiled station interior with arched roof and series of benches, uplights and pillars receding towards escalators in the distance.
Gants Hill Underground, modelled on the Moscow subway system stations. via Wiki Commons.

4. Post war

Arched structure, partially covered with copper roof with bare forecourt in foreground.
Exterior view of Newbury Park bus station © Historic England

Whilst Newbury Park station itself is not listed, the adjacent Newbury Park Bus Shelter was listed Grade II in 1981. Designed by Oliver Hill, the shelter was constructed as part of the post war New Works Programme, a major investment delivered by London Transport to coordinate underground train, tram, trolleybus and bus services in the capital. In 1951, Newbury Park Bus Shelter was awarded a Festival of Britain architectural award.

5. Hi-tech

View up the escalators towards the station concourse skylight.
Canary Wharf Station © Artur Salisz

After the Second World War, tube construction was slowed by austerity. The Victoria Line was built in the 1960s but primarily connected existing stations. In 1979 the Jubilee Line opened and in 1999 the eastern extension connected Westminster and Stratford, taking in the urban renewal of Docklands. Intended as the ‘showpiece’ of the extension, Norman Foster’s Canary Wharf station is one of the most loved and most popular designs.

Header Image: Southgate Underground Station © Historic England. DP183526

Written by Charlotte Goodhart

Further reading 

10 comments on “Amazing Architecture on the Underground

  1. Reblogged this on The Owl Lady.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this! It’s nice to look at some interesting and more modern architecture. I like the way that you approach these pieces of architecture as revealing the purpose, history or context surrounding it. Another form of transport architecture you could look at are coach and bus stations, or even airports over the years!

  3. Any DLR ?

  4. Shirley Hawley

    Hello. Love the pictures of the Underground Stations and we plan to visit some of them. These are wonderful buildings and the Art Deco never seems to age!

  5. Valerie Boxley

    It is so refreshing to find an official organisation with the professional status of English Heritage acknowledging that quality British architecture and design did not stop at some time in the past, that modern ideas are alive and vibrant and the 20th [ and hopefully the 21st ] centuries will have a valuable contribution to make to the riches of Britain.

  6. Claire Brown

    I used to enjoy the old signage on the Piccadilly Line station on my way home to Bounds Green from uni in central London – Twelve Stops and Home…

  7. I’m a bit disappointed that you don’t mention Brunel’s Thames Tunnel in this article

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