The Anonymous Widower

1960s Architectural Failures

Yesterday, I went to or through four stations; Highbury and Islington, Euston, Manchester Piccadilly and Huddersfield.

Huddersfield is a Grade 1 Listed Building which means it is one of the finest buildings in the country. The others  are three of  the worst examples of how we designed and built stations in the 1960s.

So it got me thinking about what are the worst examples of 1960s architectural design, that I’ve seen. I’ll start with the three I’ve already named.

Euston station – I probably went to Liverpool a couple of times from Euston before the current station was built and I have vague memories of catching trains there during the building in perhaps 1965 to 1967.  The design shows classic “Think Small” attitudes as it was deliberately built with foundations that couldn’t support development above.  Only twenty or so years later, Liverpool Street station was remodelled, which shows how good design can be applied to old buildings. Since then St. Pancras and Kings Cross have been rebuilt using similar thought processes to those used so successfully at Liverpool Street.  One does wonder what would have happened at Euston, if the rebuilding had been a few years later.  Euston is now to be rebuilt for HS2 and I suspect they’ll get it right this time.

Euston has another big problem, that you don’t see on the surface.  The Underground station is one of the worst in London, with no step-free access, innumerable staircases and escalators and a dingy cramped ticket hall. The only good thing about Euston station is that coming off a train, it’s easy to walk to a bus, as I did last night. But try taking a heavy case on the Underground.

In some ways, Euston’s problems with the Underground should have been solved, when they built the Victoria Line, which opened at around the same time as the new Euston station. It just showed how bad project planning was in those days. The fact that the Victoria line was built on the cheap didn’t help.

Highbury and Islington station – This suffers badly because of the decision to build the Victoria Line on the cheap. Again it is not step-free and it perhaps is one of the worst stations for disabled access in the Underground, as when you get down the escalator, you then have a tunnel and a staircase to get to the platforms. At least the Overground platforms have lifts to the surface. Since I have moved to the area, the station concourse has been opened up considerably and it is not dark and cramped like it was a couple of years ago. To be fair to Transport for London, I think they’ve achieved the improvement without using tons of money. But solving the problems of access to the underground platforms will be very expensive.

Manchester Piccadilly station – This suffers in that it doesn’t have enough platforms and lines. Additionally, of all the main stations in the country, it probably has some of the worst connections to other means of transport.  It makes you wonder if it was designed as a cheap stop-gap solution to accept the new electric trains from London. They are spending a fortune on the Northern Hub, but will it get rid of all the hangovers from the 1960s and all the resulting layers of sticky tape? Only time will tell, but judging by the improvement of planning in recent years, it probably will. If you want to read about planning failures in the area, read this Wikipedia topic about the Ordsall Curve, which is a crucial part of the Northern Hub.  It would appear that it had the go-ahead ( and money) in 1979.

So that’s dealt with yesterday’s examples, what others can be added to this list?

Kings Cross station – Although not specifically 1960s, but a few years later, this now virtually demolished extension was best described as a wart on the face of the Mona Lisa. The man who designed it, must have had the biggest conservation stopper of all time. I can’t wait until I see the new Kings Cross plaza in the autumn.

Various stations – There were a lot of stations built in the 1960s that I don’t like, although some are listed.  I would start with a short list of Harlow Town, Stevenage, and Walthamstow Central. Railways have a lot to answer for, but some of their worst excesses were reserved for buildings like this signal box in Birmingham. Many reckon that Birmingham New Street station is another bad example, but at least the operation of the station seems to be pretty good. In fact the planned reconstruction of the station; Gateway Plus, is all about greater passenger comfort. So yet another 1960s monstrosity will bite the dust. Gateway Plus has this condemnation of 1960s thinking.

The current New Street station was built to cater for 650 trains and 60,000 passengers per day, which was roughly the same usage it experienced when it was first constructed. It was believed that demand for rail travel would decrease. However, it now caters for 1,350 trains and over 120,000 passengers – twice its design capacity. Passenger usage of New Street has increased by 50% since 2000.[2] It is predicted that passenger usage of the station will increase by 57% by 2020.

We do seem to have cut corners for decades and only now the chickens are coming home to roost.

February 24, 2013 - Posted by | Transport, World | , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. I have an architect-engineer friend who has similar sentiments about London – a mixture of really nice and really bad buildings. I don’t like many of the buildings in London myself, yet I have come to the realization that it’s this awkward mix that makes London so London and so different from, say, Vienna or Paris. I suspect London would feel very different otherwise, and perhaps not so ‘outstanding’ from other European cities.

    Comment by linyangchen | March 4, 2013 | Reply

    • I’ve seen some pretty bad buildings in Vienna and I can’t feel enthusiastic about La Defense in Paris.

      Public buildings are bad in London. like many of the terrible tower blocks for housings. Although, having lived for some years in Cromwell Tower, I don’t hold that criticism against the Barbican.

      I think Liverpool has a superb balance of buildings, as in the 1960s, they couldn’t afford to knock the old Georgian ones down. Most of the 1960s buildings in the city are in the University and I don’t think academics would put up with bad ones. Although saying that, there are some bad 60s buildings in the city. But they don’t seem to be as noticeable.

      Comment by AnonW | March 4, 2013 | Reply

      • I should mention the 1960’s Philharmonie in Berlin – fierce public opposition during its construction but in my eyes one of the greatest architectural icons in Berlin today, inside and outside. Kind of reminiscent of the Royal Festival Hall but goes way beyond the latter in its sharp polygonal asymmetry, not to mention that it was the home of Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.

        Comment by linyangchen | March 5, 2013

  2. […] I said here, it is not the best station for step-free access, although that to the Overground is excellent. But […]

    Pingback by Where Is The Lift At Highbury And Islington Station? « The Anonymous Widower | March 5, 2013 | Reply

  3. I don’t know the building in Berlin, although I’ve been to the city. I did go to the Royal Festival Hall for a concert once, but most of my knowledge comes from my A level Physics, where the teacher told us about how the acoustics were properly designed. The design got the sound to bounce in front of the audience. Dr. Booth was a very good physics teacher, but probably one of the ugliest men I’ve met. He gave me a lifelong love of physics and I still have Nelkon and Parker in my bookshelf.

    Comment by AnonW | March 5, 2013 | Reply


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