5 London Underground Stations That Totally Ripped Off Other Buildings

5 London Underground Stations That Totally Ripped Off Other Buildings

Charles Holden is the undisputed master of the modernist tube station. But if you think he plucked his designs out of thin air, you've got another thing coming. Namely, this article, which fingers five buildings in five cities — which either definitely, or otherwise almost certainly, influenced Holden's London Underground stations.

Arnos Grove (1932) /Stockholm Public Library (1928)

The two cylindrical buildings side by side
Image: Chris Sampson/En Dum En via creative commons

Charles Holden was the golden boy of Frank Pick, London Underground's art-obsessed publicity officer, and the two travelled together to Europe in 1930 to sniff out modernist designs for the growing Piccadilly line. In Stockholm, they visited the the Stockholmsutställningen, a showcase of the snazzy new aesthetics of Functionalism and International Style. Clearly, Holden had his eyes peeled at all times on the trip; Stockholm Public Library — or Stadsbiblioteket — had opened in 1928, sporting a classically-inspired rotunda with a modernist spin, and Holden borrowed heavily from its cylindrical shape and tall, light-giving windows, when sketching out Arnos Grove tube station. It opened in 1932, and the architectural critic Jonathan Glancey later dubbed it one of the '12 great modern buildings of the world', alongside the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House.

Boston Manor (1933)/De Volharding Building (1928)

The two towers side by side
Image: Ethan Doyle White/Fransvannes via creative commons

Both Pick and Holden were suckers for detail, and sometimes they'd simply purloin a tasty little feature rather than the overall structure of a building. This seems to have been the case with Jan Willem Eduard Buijs's De Volharding Building in the Hague. with its slender mast of glass bricks that glow beacon-like at night. An uncannily similar feature later appeared atop Boston Manor Underground station. Coincidence? We think not.

Southgate (1933)/Feuerbachstraße (1933)

The two saucer esque stations next to one another
Image: Londonist/Christian Liebscher via creative commons

We always thought that Holden's masterpiece Southgate tube station came from outer space, but now we're not so sure. There's no doubt the tube station architect was influenced (architecturally) by what was going on in Berlin in the 1920s/early 1930s. As Modernist Tourists tells us, Holden and co "toured rail systems across Europe and were inspired particularly by the new stations of the Berlin U and S Bahns." Plenty of sources say that the U-Bahn's Krumme Lanke station rubbed off on Holden's plans for Chiswick Park. But there's a more startling similarity between the flying saucer-esque Southgate station, and the S-Bahn's Feuerbachstraße. Southgate actually opened a couple of months before Feuerbachstraße, but both were being constructed around the same time, and we reckon Holden must've spied some plans for Feuerbachstraße earlier on, because they're just too alike to've been spawned from the minds of two different architects. Although if you know otherwise, please let us know.

Osterley (1934)/De Telegraaf building (1928)

The two towers side by side
Image: Londonist/Amsterdam Municipal Department for the Preservation and Restoration of Historic Buildings and Sites (bMA) via creative commons

Hot off the heels of lifting the De Volharding Building's mast, Holden pinched another design from the Dutch — this one, a glowing antennae from Amsterdam's De Telegraaf building. As Modernism in Metroland says, "The lighting of buildings in Europe impressed Pick and Holden on their 1930 trip, and they imported this idea when designing the Piccadilly line stations of the 30s."

Gants Hill (1947) / Mayakovskaya Moscow Metro station (1938)

The two arched stations side by side
Image: Hadi Karimi via creative commons/Londonist

There is no other tube station like Gants Hill in London — although there are one or two in Moscow. In fact, the concourse of the north-east London Underground station is even nicknamed the 'Moscow Hall'. Charles Holden conceived this magnificent space following a trip to the Russian capital, and though he likely took his cue from a number of the ornate stations peppered throughout the capital, it's said he took particular inspiration from Mayakovskaya, a stunning art deco/futurist design named after the poet Mayakovsky. Such was the Metro station's presence, Joseph Stalin used it to make an address from in 1941. There are differences in the stations, of course; Mayakovskaya has arched colonnades, while Holden plumped for blunter columns. You won't find ceiling mosaics depicting '24 Hours in the Land of the Soviets' at Gants Hill, either. But overall, these stations are kindred spirits. Gants Hill (the only non-Piccadilly line station on this list) opened in 1947, as one of Holden's last commissions — and what a sign-off it was.

Architectural inspiration, of course is a melting pot from which everyone borrows and puts in — especially during such a dynamic era of design as the 1920s and 30s. As Modernist Tourists acknowledges, Holden and co "were also gratified to note that many of the networks had copied elements of earlier London Underground designs." Even so, London has five specific cities to thank for five of its finest tube stations.

Last Updated 19 March 2024

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