I got to 'review' the East London Line extension in BD, which was a very enjoyable task, despite the slightly depressing nature of most of the architecture - mainly because of some things which could either be only touched upon or not mentioned at all in the review. The first of them is the spaciousness of the trains themselves, wonderful open-plan things without internal doors, picked out in yellow and orange and with lovely and unashamedly retromodernist seats. They haven't quite attained a level of full civilisation to the extent of installing toilets at each end, but steps in the right, as opposed to the horrendously wrong direction have been made, which is rare and good.
The other thing is the maintenance spaces in New Cross Gate, which I got to mention, only mention, in BD at the end, as an example of architecture with the drama the stations themselves largely avoid in the service of flogging air rights to Barratt Homes.
They're quite motley, and were regarded as such by the depot's staff, or at least those I spoke to. What you can see above is the atrium of the Operational Buildings Complex, the space where TfL, LOROL and the RMT can all meet in the middle and try and work out what the other is doing. There's a strange mixture here of an architecture of display and concealment, where very cheaply detailed buildings play at being 'iconic' and genuinely breathtaking spaces refuse to signal themselves to the passer-by. The Operational Buildings Complex looks like this on the outside. I like the antennae especially:
...and had incurred some ire already from some in there. 'They've given us a triangular building for a square function'. Apparently they'd 'nearly made the architects cry' a few days earlier. Mind you, they were very keen to show me just how heavy the door to the control room is, and it was enough to nearly knock over my not-as-thin-as-it-used-to-be frame. The two linked sheds for Wheel Lathe and Heavy Cleaning are what I noticed at first from the train, and what made me decide to try and get in here in the first place.
They clearly want to be part of a rather more expensive and prestigious scheme, with their sub-Zaha formalism. Inside was the place where they scrape off the bodies. No, really, this is pretty much how they describe it.
But upstairs was security, detailed in plastic and MDF. Here, a spotty, animated adolescent boy had before him an enormous bank of surveillance software, which he was clearly loving. 'I am adamant that no-one is going to mess with my depot.' Every single inch of the place was covered - as well it might be, as even passengers are supposed to be encouraged by the East London Line's response to This Time Of Heightened Security, with leaflets on the benefits of CCTV filed next to the new train timetables. But I'd never seen before just how advanced this technology had become - he could click a few times and get a close-up on a depot worker's face as he had a crafty fag half-a-mile away. It all felt very unreal, although Bobby said to me afterwards that it makes perfect sense to give such a job to a youth, to someone who was used to playing video games. He kindly walked me back to New Cross Gate station after I was done, and asked me lots of questions about my job. 'Sorry, I'm a bit nosey'. Which I suppose comes in useful in that line of work.
The Maintenance Depot really is a stunning thing, however. A top lit and not particularly big Big Shed, my aesthetic pleasure in it was probably not because I took it as the unpretentious industrial structure it is, but because a top lit glass shed with trains in immediately looks to me like a railway shed, and here I immediately compare it to the appallingly shoddy sheds of the line itself and find them distinctly lacking. Viz the following contrast between the interior of Dalston Junction and the interior of the Maintenance Depot.
The sad thing about this is not merely the ignorance of the huge amount of precedents for beautiful tube stations, the fact it erroneously suggests that some 150 years after the Underground railway was invented in London nothing much has happened since. If it is, as E&V points out, the 19th century all over again today, with an eclectic aesthetics and an industrial non-aesthetics at total variance with each other, then it's telling how the 'architectural' public space of Dalston Junction is utterly miserable and the unshowy industrial space of the Maintenance Depot's shop floor is thrilling, airy, exciting - if it reminds me of anything recent then it's the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin, certainly not anything in the UK. So maybe we should be looking to the sheds for interest rather than the architects who dress them up on the outside. Another contrast - inside and outside.
It's clear that the architects have done as much as possible not to express the industrial drama inside. In his forthcoming Architecture of Failure, Murphy outlines how the Crystal Palace and the Victorian railway sheds have become the positivist foundation for all that is drab and apolitical in British architecture; but when it comes to actually designing new railway stations, we get this, or we get the ELL extension. It would lead you to statements about the inadequacy of British architects to live up to their past - or it would, if they hadn't been capable of this only ten years ago.