Architecture: It goes far beyond Canary Wharf: There are compelling reasons to proceed with the Jubilee Line extension: more jobs, less traffic. Now add to the list brilliant station design, says Jonathan Glancey

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Why should a dithery government stop its dithering over the pounds 1.8bn Jubilee Line extension of the London Underground? Because building the line would create 12,000 jobs immediately - and the Government needs job creation schemes of this scale; and because the line is one of the three that the Conservative Party promised it would build to revolutionise London's public-transport system (the other two are Crossrail - the mainline underground railway connecting Paddington and Liverpool Street stations via the West End and the City - and the high- speed Paddington-to-Heathrow link).

It should build this new Tube line because its design - by a 500-strong team - has already been completed down to the last detail and the contractors are ready to start tomorrow; and because the project is in the hands of the team who built the immensely successful Hong Kong metro, in record time and under budget, between 1975 and 1990 (the team had to contend with government dithering there, too; now the Hong Kong government is proud of the metro, which has boosted business


It should go ahead with this underground link because it is the one vital piece of transport infrastructure Docklands needs if it is to take off; because it would connect parts of London that exist in a public-transport limbo; because it would help to reduce the number of cars coming into central London from Kent and Sussex; and because it promises to raise the quality of life in a much battered and denigrated world capital.

As if these reasons were not enough, the designs of the 11 new stations from Westminster to Stratford are the finest of any new metro system in the world. With these stations, designed by a mix of the best of Britain's senior and junior architects, the London Underground finally would be able to exorcise the ghost of Frank Pick (1878-1941), its legendary chief executive, who ensured that, before the Second World War, London enjoyed the best designed, most closely integrated and most efficient urban transport system in the world.

The London Underground of the Thirties was characterised not only by its scale and efficiency but also by the outstanding architecture of the stations built along its new extensions. Designed for the most part by Charles Holden (1875-1960), many of these - Sudbury Town, Arnos Grove and Southgate chief among them - have played starring roles in architectural histories. Given the relative lack of investment in the London Underground since the Pick era, it had looked as if the architectural standards set by Holden would never be repeated.

Tomorrow, an exhibition opening at the Architecture Foundation in London will reveal the exemplary quality of the 11 stations designed for the Jubilee Line extension. Hidden from view until now, they represent some of the finest public-sector architecture in Britain of recent years. It would be sad if London were to be cheated of the opportunity to lead the world in urban transport design for the first time in 50 years.

The Jubilee Line extension has been one of the most enigmatic railway lines in the world. Many people still know it only as the line designed to bale out Canary Wharf, the massive and controversial Docklands development built by Olympia & York at ruinous cost and without transport infrastructure. Olympia & York has been taken over by receivers who say that they will pay the pounds 400m contribution - over 25 years - towards the cost of building the Jubilee Line, which the Canadian developers had promised. However, their condition is that the Government move thousands of civil servants to offices in Canary Wharf. If agreement can be reached on this point, the Jubilee Line will be running up to 36 new trains an hour from Stratford to Stanmore within 53 months of the Secretary of State for Transport signing the necessary documents.

Some critics of the extension say that it is less a priority than the long-awaited Hackney-to-Chelsea line. But if the priority were to shift, it would take at least four years before that line could be designed and a further six or seven years before it opened. Those same critics have not looked properly at the immediate and long-term benefits of the Jubilee Line extension. Eight of the 11 stations would connect with other London Underground, British Rail or Docklands Light Railway lines. The extension would provide a rapid link, for example, between Waterloo and London Bridge mainline stations to the City, West End and Canary Wharf.

The new station on the desolate North Greenwich peninsula would provide a park-and-ride service for motorists from Kent and Sussex loathe to join the glutinous queues that clog up the approach roads to the Blackwall Tunnel. Leaving their cars at North Greenwich, they could be at Oxford Circus within 15 minutes. This station would also serve the proposed Greenwich City development (Sir Norman Foster has been working on a master plan for the regeneration of this forlorn area), part of the Government's desire to develop London east along the forgotten banks of the Thames.

The stations at Waterloo and Stratford would serve London's new international rail terminals, taking passengers rapidly to the West End, City and Docklands. The line would be one of the few underground lines to run south of the Thames and the first to run west to east south of the river. It would encourage house building and raise property prices in depressed Bermondsey and Southwark.

This long list of justifications takes us to the stations themselves. Each promises to be an architectural gem. Some of the proposed stations, such as Waterloo and London Bridge - as the Science Museum-style models on show at the Architecture Foundation reveal - would be carved out of existing railway architecture. Passengers at London Bridge would walk through the restored brick vaults that form the forgotten Victorian undercroft of the mainline station. At Canary Wharf they would be swept into the glamorous, The Shape of Things to Come world of Sir Norman Foster. Other stations - such as Southwark, by MacCormac, Jamieson, Prichard; and West Ham, by Birkin Haward - are variations on the theme set by Holden in the Thirties; the station at North Greenwich, by Alsop, Lyall & Stormer, is an example of contemporary architecture at its most radical.

Although each of the 11 stations - including Westminster, by Michael Hopkins and Partners - would have a character very much of its own, Roland Paoletti, the architect in charge of the project (and designer of the new station at Waterloo) established common guidelines for their design. One was that daylight should reach most of the platforms - a revolution in the design of Tube stations. Another was that the platforms should have a common identity; elegant, engineering-style designs would replace the psychedelic mosaics and kitsch tiles popular in the revamped Tube stations of the Seventies and Eighties.

Each platform would be faced by sliding glass screens to prevent passengers from falling under trains. These would open only when the train doors opened. Stations would be equipped with at least three sets of escalators, so that if one should break down, passengers would not be left to walk up and down as they are at so many existing Tube stations. Each station would have a lift - a glass one at Canary Wharf - to take elderly and disabled passengers from the booking hall to platforms. Above all, each station building would be an adornment to the street in which it stood rather than an apology for transport architecture.

Mr Paoletti chose his architects on the strength of their design ability. He signed up small, vigorous, imaginative practices because, as he says: 'You get to work with the partners of small firms; you get a lot of hard work and tremendous imagination. My job is simply to keep them in check.' Mr Paoletti - the man who along with Wilfred Newton, chairman of London Regional Transport and London Underground, built the Hong Kong metro - is confident that he can give London the finest underground line in the world. For every reason - from the regeneration of London to the promise of inspired public-sector architecture - he should be allowed to get on with the job. And, if the Government signs on the dotted line, it will find itself doing something positive and popular for the first time in the six months it has been in power.

'Jubilee Line Takes Shape' runs from 22 October to 14 January at the Architecture Foundation, 30 Bury Street, London SW1 (071-839 9389).

(Photograph omitted)