As Tottenham Court Road underground station reopens, the step-free access and restored Paolozzi mosaics are making me smile.
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Have you seen the new station at Tottenham Court Road (TCR)? The iconic Paolozzi mosaics have been restored and look amazing. These have long been one of my favourite features on the underground network and I, and many others, were fearful when they began modernising the station ready for the Elizabeth line due to open in 2018. However, after probably one of the largest art conservation efforts of the last decade, a brilliant 95% of them have been cleaned up, brought back to their former glory and remain on show to the public. While some bits have been moved around, replaced, and some sections that didn’t fit in the new station sent to the University of Edinburgh (including the arches over the escalators that made descending to the platforms a veritable assault on the senses), they remain true to Paolozzi’s original vision. And oh my do they look good.
They are in no way universally liked though. Many Londoners hate them and would have liked to have seen them torn down. But to me they epitomise London – a vibrancy and eccentricity that has it’s own unique beauty. I have always wondered about the story behind these mosaics. Who commissioned this weird and wonderful lovechild of Gaudi and Tetris in such a public space? No other station has anything approaching this 1980s explosion of colour.
The loss of the much-loved Astoria and months of travel chaos overground aside, the TCR station upgrade seems to have been a success and is now tantalisingly near completion. As well as retaining its iconic character and artworks, it is now airy, bright, spacious and clean (as a tube station can ever be). But more than that, it has also been designed with the people who will use it in mind.
It has a bunch of features subtly designed into the station (not that subtle is a word you’d associate with TCR) to make travelling easier for the 150,000+ people who use it every day. Improved lighting, new tactile strips on platform and stairs, contrasting handrails to help people with visual impairments. Step-free access to Northern and Central lines will benefit anyone who find stairs or escalators difficult, older people, people with buggies, disabled people, carers, and people with luggage (I foolishly attempted the Escher-esque rabbit warren that is Regents Park station the other day with a holdall full of Pretty Good products for testing and, oh wow, if it was not for the kindness of strangers I swear I would still be there now.)
If ever there is an example of how something can be inclusive and also retain unique character – it is TCR – we salute you. We hope the rest of the Crossrail stations are as inspiring.
You can find out more about accessible (and not so accessible) transport in London on the brilliant Transport for All website. They have great maps, resources and friendly advice to help you get about.
If you want to find out more about the ‘Father of Pop Art’, Eduardo Paolozzi, check out the exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery starting this month and running until May. I can’t wait to go!
And let me know in the comments below if you have experience of using TCR before or after the renovation and whether you love or hate the Paolozzi mosaics!