Now it's time to get above-ground stations on the right track
It's a delight to be publishing the Jubilee Line Extension. Without resorting to pfi, or design and build, 11 first-rate projects have crept up on us. It's a triumph for architecture, and for good old-fashioned patronage. So how did the client, Roland Paoletti, carry it off? By commanding respect - his distinguished career in architecture, including a long stint on the Hong Kong mass-transit system, left little doubt as to his credentials for the job. But also by trusting to his instincts. By being both bloody-minded and visionary. As Paoletti recalls on pages 34-37, the task of designing the stations was seen as so unglamorous that it was difficult enough to persuade architects to accept commissions; trying to muster up the enthusiasm for a public competition would have been out of the question. Commissions were made primarily on recommendations and hunches. The result is a triumph: an underground showcase of the best of British architecture.
Now that we know it can be done, isn't it time to see the same kind of drive and commitment above ground? Railtrack has pledged to renew 50 major stations throughout the country over the next few years, so isn't it time it appointed its own Paoletti? Not an asset-development manager, important though this role might be, but an experienced architect with sound instincts and real vision. By all means entrust Paddington to Grimshaw, or Kings Cross to John McAslan. It doesn't take a genius to realise these architects are up to the job. But there are smaller stations which could easily be undertaken by much smaller practices. What is needed is an individual with the foresight and the judgement to take a gamble on the next generation of architects - practices which were barely formed when Paoletti made his original selection, but which are now in need of their big break.
Stations often form a visitor's first impression of a town or city. A concerted drive to charge our most promising architects with the task of refurbishing or rebuilding their local stations will boost civic pride and raise the profile of the profession. The Jubilee Line Extension has done wonders for London. It's time to apply its principles to the country as a whole.