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In defence of... Euston Station

In defence of... Euston Station

24 March 2014 Written by By Thomas Bender Lead Advisor, Design Council Cabe

Is the proposed demolition of Euston Station an example of history repeating itself? In years to come, will we bemoan the loss of yet another well-designed Euston Station, this time the wonderful modernist 1960s building? 

I always like making trips to Liverpool. I like Liverpool, but I also really like taking the train from my favourite station in London - Euston Station. Opened in 1968, Euston Station is London's only post-war mainline station. Its clean simple lines, white tiles and polished surfaces set the station apart from the old soot covered brick piles of St Pancras, Victoria and Waterloo. This is a station that came into existence in the decade of supersonic jet planes, efficient diesel engines and flights to the moon. Its modern design symbolised the 1960s and held the promise of great developments and an exciting future.  

Now, Euston’s future looks rather dim. With the arrival of HS2, plans for rebuilding the station are being drawn up. Less than fifty years after its inauguration, the current building is facing a fate similar to its 1840s predecessor. The grand Victorian building with the splendid Great Hall was demolished in the early 1960s due to congestion and growing passenger numbers. Its loss is still considered one of the great scandals of the time. Is it not possible that we're witnessing history about to repeat itself? Will we not one day equally lament the loss of this remarkable modernist station?

It might look simple and modest, but Euston is a text-book example of a well-ordered station. Everything is efficient, easy on the eye and elegantly designed; from the geometric rhythm of the ceiling to the clear and legible routes to the platforms, and even the layout of the ticket office. Even the first glimpse of the station, across the charming little park along Euston Road, makes it feel open and accessible. Within the station, space is used cleverly and to maximum capacity - it even accommodates a parcel sorting office above the platforms.  

With functional rigour and order comes a matching clean and unpretentious design. A coffered, concrete ceiling high up above the windows spans over the bustling crowd. Its polished dark stone and white tiles provide the setting for this amazingly bright and well-ordered space. There is also the funky stalactite-suspended-ceiling in the booking hall, one of the few reminders of the original décor. I also like the monumental, yet restrained main frontage with its vertical articulation, reminiscent of the peristyle of an antique temple. 

The grand Victorian building with the splendid Great Hall was demolished in the early 1960s... Its loss is still considered one of the great scandals of the time.

Unfortunately, the spacious and polished feel of Euston Station’s interiors has been largely undermined by recent additions. Advertisements, shop frontages and worst of all the Britannia Pub. With its pseudo-Victorian wood panelling and pastiche romantic railway spirit, it makes the concourse feel cluttered and compromises the clear design integrity. What has worked at Kings Cross and the Royal Festival Hall in terms of bringing out the inherent qualities of the original design should be possible at Euston Station. Take out the recent tat to reveal the wonderful minimalist and light character of the building. 

I would love to see Euston rejuvenated again to enjoy the slick 1960s detailing mirroring the positive dynamism of the era. It might take a little bit longer until we fully appreciate the architectural quality of post-war architecture, but if we’re not careful and plans go the way they are headed, our most interesting examples will have disappeared, including Euston Station with its swish, shiny stone surfaces and straight, clear lines.

For a little nostalgia trip, watch the Queen open Euston Station in 1968 on British Pathé.

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