"Is there anything more enticing on a gloomy London evening than the glow of an Underground station? The luminous red lollipop roundel invites the weary pedestrian to enter and be whisked away on a clanking, disorientating journey under the metropolis, eventually emerging at one of the sister stations miles from the point of departure."
Like many of us, Philip Butler is enamoured with the modernist tube stations of Charles Holden, as well as those of his contemporaries and direct successors.
Together with writer Joshua Abbott, Butler has compiled Tube Station Anthology 1924-1961, a coffee table tome that captures in vivid vignettes those pioneering interwar (and beyond) London Underground stations which surprise and delight at every turn.
From the oversized stained glass roundels of Tooting Bec to Park Royal's kooky sci-fi church aesthetic, Charles Holden's stations go above-and-beyond spec, and for the best part of a century, have been an instantly recognisable motif for the tired, lost or weary-footed wanderer. They're almost as much an emblem of the city as the roundels they flaunt.
Says Butler, "Stations from the last 30 years feel efficient, occasionally impressive, but often vacuous and sterile. The early examples are charming in a heritage railway vernacular, but it's those from the 1930s that tick all the right boxes as far as I'm concerned."
Charles Holden was not a lone operator though; his creative synergy with the art-devouring Frank Pick (the man who created the modern Underground roundel) was an architectural romance for the ages — as evidenced in the details in each of these stations. It was, says Butler, "a marriage of form and function, civic service and commerce, which is still celebrated today."
Tube Station Anthology — its photos accompanied by riveting insight from Joshua Abbott — is also keen to celebrate the many others who helped realise these mini utopias in Portland stone, brown brick and glass. Says Butler: "This feat was not accomplished by the two men alone but by a host of architects, designers, builders, engineers, artists, tradespeople and bureaucrats.
"This army of people, working under Holden and Pick, created what Pick would term 'Medieval Modernism', comparing the extension of the Underground network to the creation of a great cathedral, many hands and years in the making."
79 stations feature in the book — many of the photos snapped at the height of the pandemic, when the tube faced a record low number of commuters not seen since the second world war, when some of these buildings were not long completed.
Says Butler: "I aimed to capture each station in its best light, to showcase their street-facing 'typology' and give a flavour of interior features and the general atmosphere of these iconic stations in the 21st century."
You may recognise Joshua Abbot's prose from another fantastic architectural tome, A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land, a picture anthology of the gems scattered liberally across Greater London — from a deliciously curved set of Highgate apartments to a playfully angular department store in Uxbridge that's way more stunning than it needs to be.
What links the two books — apart from being eye-candy for the architectural aesthete — is the enduring legacy of great architecture, made to be not just used but enjoyed.
Tube Station Anthology smashed its original Kickstarter fund, and the initial limited edition run of 500 books will likely tear off the shelves at the speed of a Londoner masking a dash for the last Northern line train of the night.
Tube Station Anthology 1924 - 1961 by Joshua Abbott and Philip Butler, published by ADM Publishing available to pre-order, RRP £25