site unseen: Barnes Railway Station, London SW13

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The Independent Online
Architecture is the one art which affects us all, whether we like it or not. People can choose not to visit museums, theatres, cinemas or art galleries, but everyone's world is shaped by the buildings around us.

Lively public debate is therefore essential - and whatever one thinks of Prince Charles's contribution, at least he got people arguing about architecture. And the row he sparked was nothing compared with the "Battle of Styles" fought out in the early 19th century when Goths and Classicists went head to head.

Architects were supposedly on one side or the other. Either you favoured straight lines and classical restraint, or you were passionate about Gothic pointed arches, nobs and crockets. It was an architectural cold war in which no prisoners were taken.

In fact, of course, the best architects proved adept at several styles, just as they always had been. Sir Christopher Wren, for example, is justly known for St Paul's Cathedral and his superb Classical churches dotted throughout the City of London - but he was also responsible for a couple of Gothic gems (the churches of St Mary Aldermary and St Dunstan's in the East). Two hundred years later, Sir George Gilbert Scott created both St Pancras station and the very different Government Offices in Whitehall.

Wren's versatility was also echoed by Sir William Tite, one of whose finest creations celebrates its 150th anniversay this year. Tucked away on Barnes Common, this Tudor-looking structure is distinguished by its shapely red brick and tall chimneys. At first glance it looks like a gatekeeper's lodge or even a folly, but is in reality a railway station, completed in 1846.

Tite's other works demonstrate that for him variety was clearly the spice of architectural life. The stately Royal Exchange in the heart of the City of London rubs shoulders with the Gothic entrance to Norwood Cemetery in south London, and the peculiar church of St James, Gerrards Cross is different again from Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

But perhaps the best way to appreciate Sir William's talents is to visit the Tudor-style station at Barnes, hop back on the train, journey two stops further along the line and then get off again at Chiswick railway station.

Here is a chaste and classical little building, simple and austere. Its architect? Indeed, Sir William Tite.

It would be nice to think that railway privatisation will lead to a renaissance in station architecture...

Barnes Railway Station is in Rocks Lane, London SWI3