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Paolozzi murals at Tottenham Court Road tube face demolition

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Twentieth Century Society seeks urgent meeting with architect over fate of two ‘key’ 1980s mosaics

Hawkins\Brown’s £400million redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road underground station will see the loss of two of the station’s famous mosaics by artist Eduardo Paolozzi, a heritage group is warning.

The Twentieth Century Society said that demolition of the pieces - which form part of Paolozzi’s celebrated early ‘80s collection of murals at the station - would be a ‘tragic loss’ and is seeking an urgent meeting with Hawkins\Brown co-founder Roger Hawkins.

The society has argued that the two elements - a double set of tiled arches over the escalators in the main concourse and a large decorative panel at the entrance to the south side of Oxford Street (pictured) - could be relocated or even retained in the new station.

However, Hawkins and his client Transport for London (TfL), say they have gone out of their way to preserve as much of Paolozzi’s work as possible and claim 95 per cent of the mosaics will be saved using a mix of original and replica tiles.

Hawkins\Brown’s work is part of a comprehensive and multi-phase revamp of the underground station to cope with the advent of the £15billion Crossrail link in 2018.

Henrietta Billings, senior conservation adviser at the Twentieth Century Society, which campaigns to preserve Britain’s architecture and design from 1914 onwards, said: ‘We are very concerned about two key areas of the comprehensive Paolozzi mural scheme that are set to be demolished imminently… We’ve raised our concerns with TfL and are urgently seeking a meeting with Roger Hawkins.

‘We appreciate that fact that TfL have worked hard to retain as much of the murals at platform level as possible and that integrating Crossrail is immensely complex.

‘But both of these pieces are of very high quality and we believe they could be successfully retained within the new station – or relocated. To destroy them would be a tragic loss and London deserves better.’

Hawkins however said his ‘transformative’ scheme made retaining elements such as the arches impossible.

He said: ‘The old station is 300m² and ours is going to be five times larger at 1,500m². The arches are no longer needed because they are not supporting anything…they would not work with the new design because the structure is completely different. There will be a modern, daylit, space there five times as large with new artwork by Daniel Buren and 200,000 people a day using the station.’

Hawkins said he believed the decorative panel would be retained in some form - possibly through replication – adding that the station’s ‘signature’ mosaics by Paolozzi himself had been saved for the Paolozzi Foundation.

David Waboso, director for capital programmes for TfL’s subsidiary London Underground, said: ‘As part of the upgrade of Tottenham Court Road station we have cleaned, and are currently in the process of repairing, the existing mosaics at the station as well as reinstating mosaic panels that needed to be temporarily removed as part of the station capacity essential works. 

‘We consider these Paolozzi mosaics to be an important artwork for which we are proud to continue providing a home for at Tottenham Court Road station.  We have made great efforts to plan for the retention and restoration of as many of the mosaics as possible.’

Comment:

Ian Martin, AJ columnist

‘Someone had told me they were smashing up the Tottenham Court Road murals. I remained in denial. The Paolozzi murals are very, very important. When they went up in the 1980s I thought they were pretty good. Now I feel like weeping with gratitude every time I see them. Who could have foreseen at the time just how egregious this bit of public art was going to be?

‘Because three decades on, Paolozzi’s legacy is not just a thousand square metres of charming, optimistic art. It’s much more. It’s a thousand square metres of commercial retardant. No purchase for those brainless ads you have to see everywhere else. How utterly brilliant is that? WAS that, I should say. Once you’ve replaced one archway’s worth, it’s easier to remove the rest. Utterly depressing. So they need a bigger arch. So what? Tell me where the Paolozzi murals are going? Because they belong there, right there in that station. Not in some fucking museum.’

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Readers' comments (7)

  • It's inconceivable that these elements can't be 'saved' - maybe not in their original context, or even in the station - but the one thing that is sure is that Paolozzi's talent is head and shoulders above that of people that think that claiming to save 95% of the mosaics is 'job done'.

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  • It's not a matter of how much is saved, but to ensure the best are also preserved. Hawkins and TfL should be ashamed if they destroy these panels which can be relocated within the station or preserved elsewhere. Crossrail is bland and has little sense of place as it is without destroying such fine and much loved artwork because they cannot be bothered.

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  • The murals would be great in some swanky restaurant but they have always been a bit too dark and intimidating on the Tube. You can't beat bright lights and magnolia paint when you are forced to go underground. And who on earth has the time or opportunity to look at them when clambering on and off the escalator.

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  • I write as an architect having worked extensively in public transport and having commissoned work on behalf of British Rail and the then Greater London Council.

    Spot listing would be a way forward as a good negoting base position.

    Looking back on the late 20th century, few artists seem to have provided much that is really worth fighting for to preserve. Eduardo P. is the main exception that immediately comes to mind.

    One might well compare his status in public works favourably with Jacob Epstein of an earlier era.

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  • Michael Edwards is absolutely right - and if London can't 'go the extra mile' to provide a home for all these mosaics. one way or another, then perhaps the initiative might come from Scotland, from Edinburgh - Paolozzi's home town.

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  • The simple way forward is for the Paolozzi foundation to exercise the UK Artists Moral Righ,t which is maintained for 75 years after an artist dies. This prevents any change to a publicly sited 'art work' being altered, removed, or damaged, without permission or agreement from the originator or his family.
    Robert Erskine Fellow Royal British Society of Sculptors

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  • ,,,,a PS:-

    Tottenham Court Road, at the time the murals appeared, was best knownto many for the number of electronics shops in the street. The intriguing glazed windows of Heals has gone and so has Maples (the other things I remember as being part of what made the street memorable) but at least a but a few electonics retailers still remain as does Centrepoint.

    The obvious connection between Paolozzi's graphics and the geeky gadget shops should remain prominent so best not stick them in a different place (Edinburg - I think not...; keep them in this area, even having portions his mosaics reinstalled somewhere else along the street at ground level or just in the tube station - with some possibly rehoused in the new one!

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