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Martin Pawley: lost on the Jubilee Line

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Chris Ludlow (Letters, aj 30.7.98) castigates my lumping 'signs' alongside all the other gubbins being draped and screwed over otherwise nearly complete Jubilee Line Extension stations. He is right. Spectacular though most of the stations are, it becomes more and more evident when visiting them that almost none of the designers has made any architectural provision for the positioning of signs, even the most fundamental roundels identifying the stations themselves. Two weeks ago I wrote admiringly of Roland Paoletti's heroic struggle on behalf of his architects, whose remit in most cases did not include control of m&e servicing, which means that they cannot defend their own handiwork against the clumsy secondary and tertiary installations being carried out for lul, the lfb and other interested parties. I repeat that salutation. Not until next year will it become apparent what a tremendous feat of architectural patronage he has performed, one for which I sincerely hope he is appropriately honoured.

Of the curious information shortcoming of the stations, however, there is more to be said, and next year it certainly will be. Largely as a result of functional considerations relating to the length of trains, the depth of excavations, the requirements of interchanges between different lines, the large anticipated numbers of passengers and the use of triple-banked escalators, the new Jubilee Line stations are extraordinarily monumental. They have enormous spans, massive structural members and great internal vistas, quite unlike the claustrophobic tunnels and stairs of the older parts of the underground system.

In the hands of Paoletti's proteges, this enforced grandeur has triggered a gloriously appropriate architectural response. What it did not do was to anticipate the mismatch that has arisen between the epic proportions of the stations and the diminutive scale of the standard London Underground signage that is now being installed.

With the benefit of hindsight one can say that either the old Frank Pick vocabulary of signs should have been reproduced in giant size, or that each station architect should have been allowed to design their own signage in proportion to the size of their station. Neither of these things happened and the result is the proliferation of ad hoc solutions that is driving Paoletti mad.

Chris Ludlow might be interested to know that, on one of my tours of the stations, I was so dismayed by the crude fashion in which the station identification roundels were being bolted on to brackets springing from the junctions of mighty concrete structural members that I wrote in my notebook; 'Stations should be made of information, not made to fight against it.' But that is easy to say now. To have implemented that policy from the beginning would have required a rethink of the whole programme, and a heavy-duty reshuffle of the consultants' pecking order.

Underground railways will always be engineering projects first and foremost, but when it comes to the design of stations, perhaps the next time round there should be an information impresario, and the formula should be engineering first; information second; architecture third.

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