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  • Subject area(s): Engineering
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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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Frank Pick played an immense role in the design of the London Underground. He had a strong interest in design and its use in public life. He saw functionality and efficiency as key elements to any design. He wanted a design scheme which would represent the efficient and modern system he was so proud of. Pick believed that “every element of a transport system should be clear, coherent and an exemplar of design excellence”. Pick was very influential in the world of transport as he was a British transport administrator, managing director, CEO and finally vice-chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board at various points in time. Through the use of his network, Pick cooperated with numerous typographers and architects in order to ensure that his policy of classy art blended with cohesiveness was implemented in all aspects of the Underground. He saw its role as bigger than just providing transport.  He envisioned the expanding transport system as a work of art which he compared to the modern equivalent of a medieval cathedral. He believed that every element of a building should be coherent in its design. Therefore, most of Picks works which varied from the kiosks to the roundel to the lighting  were both complementary and integrated into architecture. Pick envisioned individualist culture. Pick wanted new structures which would reflect the efficient technological modernity of his growing transport system.

Charles Holden, an experienced architect, held similar views on architecture and design which had developed through mix of treasuring the traditional, English Arts & Crafts ideals and a desire to return to elemental simple forms and exploring new technology that has been described as ‘medieval modzernism’. Pick and Holden first met in 1915 as founder members of the Design and Industries Association (DIA. Since then, Pick worked closely with architect Charles Holden, who shared his enthusiasm to create the Piccadilly Circus Station in 1928. Holden’s “holistic approach to the design was encouraged by Pick’s enlightened vision of a better urban environment” (Underground Journeys, 8). Both Holden and Pick aimed to produce buildings with clean simple lines, proclaiming their \'fitness for purpose’ which was a rule of the DIA.

Pick wanted a new type of building for the more open sites of the stations on the Piccadilly line\'s extensions. In search of inspiration and new ideas, Pick and Holden made a Euro trip in which they visited Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands in July and August 1930 to see the latest developments in modern architecture. Both Pick and Holden were intrigued by the sweeping curves with geometric detailing, bold combinations of block and drum forms, with exposed brickwork and concrete. Pick was very impressed with the way in which designers there were often responsible for all elements of a building including the interior fixtures and fittings. Therefore, Pick implemented a rule in which he instructed the engineering departments to provide Holden with full details of all equipment needed for the stations. Pick wanted to streamline and simplify the design of the stations to make them welcoming, brightly lit and efficient with large, uncluttered ticket halls for the rapid sale of tickets and quick access to the trains via escalators. Therefore, at the new stations tickets were issued from a number of \"passimeters\", glazed booths in the centre of the ticket hall, rather than the traditional ticket office windows set to one side. In the 1930’s, Frank Pick took personal charge of the coordination of the architectural and engineering elements., Pick was keenly interested that the design of the poles which were used to support all the signs and writing was coordinated to accommodate all of the possible equipment and signage that might be needed. He also oversaw the designs of the new bus stops and bus shelters that were installed when specified stopping points were introduced for bus services. In 1932, Arnos Grove station was opened. It implemented some of the ideas that Pick and Holden took away from their tour. The design seemed very simple. It looked like “brick boxes with concrete lids.”  However, the beauty of the station was in its simplicity. It was a harmonious fusion of form and function.  However, Pick and Holden did have some more complex designs, like in the Hounslow West station that was opened in 1931. d The station concrete construction was made with Portland stone and granite facing to the front and brick to the rear. “The entrance to the ticket hall is reached via double timber doors with horizontal glazing. The hall has a centrepiece which hang seven heptagonal lights on a bronze chandelier - an original feature which is now very unique.”

Through Pick’s and Holden’s visions and determination, the Underground witnessed the birth of commercial art and advertising as well as the emergence of graphic design, corporate identities and integrated brand design. The newly built stations of the Jubilee line were alike in their use of sleek modern lines, huge expanses of concrete and brushed steel unite their designs. One example of this wave of development is Canary Wharf station completed in 1999. “The station concourse is 300m in length with an entry made up of aluminium cowls. The roof of the station which is supported by just seven pillars, is a curved glass canopy which is visible above ground and this is set in a landscaped park area.” Belowground the canopy creates an impressive vaulted atrium space filled with natural light. Another examples of this period of development is North Greenwich, (an example of contemporary architecture at its most radical) which allows large open spaces for ticket halls and escalator systems. North Greenwich station is a great example of very late-20th-century transport infrastructure which demonstrates the combination of both historic and engineering interest.

Frank Pick believed that “Design is not a mode that enters in here and there and may be omitted elsewhere. Design must enter everywhere.” Through this belief and the idea that every element of a transport system should be clear, coherent and an exemplar of design excellence”, Frank along with his Holden left a life long legacy. For example, red-and-blue color scheme of the Underground roundel at North Greenwich is the most recognized and widely appropriated version of the logo, which has been used as pop cultural in nightclubs and fashion labels. Together they transformed the London Underground by observing European design policies as well as implementing discipline, passion and of course medieval modernism.

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