Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Sunday 5th April 2020

20th Century Stations

reinforcedGlossary Term [1] concreteGlossary Term [2] to allow wide and graceful unobstructed spans.

concreteGlossary Term [3] cornices above large glazed areas and yellow brick facing, and strong vertical accents made by ventilation towers or 'sky signs'. The example shown dates from 1932-3.

Less well known are the stations built for the Southern Railway, which was busy electrifying its London suburban services on which much of its income depended. It followed the Underground in adopting a stripped, Modernist-inspired style, for instance at the rebuilt Surbiton station of 1937-8.

Although the four big private companies were nationalized as British Railways in 1948, their old identities survived within England as separate regions each with their own architects, which encouraged a variety of approaches to station design.

Harlow Town Station

Harlow Town station, which serves one of the New Towns established to relieve pressure on London, has a glass-fronted booking hall with a great shelf-like entrance canopy linked to a broad footbridge or concourse over the platforms. The tower-like blocks rising above it housed lift machinery for handing the small goods such as parcels, an important tributary to railway traffic when the station was built (1959-60).

Manchester, Oxford Road Station
Birmingham, New Street Station

Oxford Road station in Manchester, rebuilt when the Cheshire suburban lines were electrified in 1960, was more experimental. Three conoidal shells of laminated timber make up the station building, a method chosen because the viaduct on which the lines ran could not take heavy loads. Though modest in scale, it catches something of the poetry of the great Victorian train sheds.

Other large stations were subsumed into rebuilding schemes affecting larger areas of town or city centres, especially after the disappearance of steam enginesGlossary Term [4] in the 1960s removed the need for large volumes of ventilation space over the tracks. That at Birmingham New Street (1964-71) is notorious for relegating passengers to a gloomy cavern of platforms beneath a concreteGlossary Term [5] slab supporting shops, offices and a car park.

galleryGlossary Term [6] of shops inserted. Offices were built alongside and on a concreteGlossary Term [7] raft over the cutting beyond, on the so-called 'air rights' principle, linked with further new blocks and open spaces on redundant railway land to one side.

closerGlossary Term [8] affinities with airport planning. This is managed within the large concreteGlossary Term [9] substructure, where services, shops and customs are incorporated.

Last updated: Saturday, 25th April 2009