Transport official on beauty

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Painting of the original Euston Arch, entry to Euston Station, in London. (eustonarch.org)

On my ballot next Tuesday I will write in John Hayes for president.

Dammit! He is ineligible. He is a member of Parliament, and now Britain’s minister for transport, newly appointed by Prime Minister Theresa May, successor to David Cameron after the Brexit vote (to leave the European Union) in June.

Hayes gave a speech in London on Oct. 31 that must be read to be believed. His words and thoughts on beauty in public transportation infrastructure are not so much unusual as exceedingly rare from the mouth of a public official, in Britain or anywhere. In his remarks before the Independent Transport Commission, entitled “The Journey to Beauty,” he uses examples to evoke the decision a democracy must make about beauty:

Our busiest stations are used by millions every day.

Their design has a profound effect on the well-being of those who pass through.

The critic Richard Morrison is right about Euston station. He said:

Euston is one of the nastiest concrete boxes in London: devoid of any decorative merit; seemingly concocted to induce maximum angst among passengers; The design […] gives the impression of having been scribbled on the back of a soiled paper bag by a thuggish android with a grudge against humanity and a vampiric loathing of sunlight”.

For better or worse, transport hubs like Euston frame our working days, and punctuate our working lives.

When transport design is done well, it raises expectations.

As Roger Scruton has written about the “old stations such as Paddington and St Pancras…”:

The architecture is noble, serene, upright. The spaces open before you. Everything is picked out with ornamental details. You are at home here, and you have no difficulty finding the ticket office, the platform or the way through the crowds.

Many of us will recognise these contrasting experiences.

They prompt us to ask – why can’t all buildings be designed with concern for form and detail?

If we learn from this experience, and seek to replicate the best in our new infrastructure, we have great power to satisfy the people’s will for structures that enhance our sense of worth by affirming our sense of place.

Ours can be – must be – an age in which aesthetic quality of the public realm soars.

It surpasses belief that not just here in America and in Britain but everywhere this remains a matter still under discussion. Hayes says a revolution is coming. It needs to come quickly!

By the way, Euston Station is scheduled to be rebuilt, and an effort has been made to rebuild the Euston Arch as part of the project. Will the station be rebuilt as it was? I do not know, but the issue brings to mind the proposal to rebuild Penn Station, in New York, as it was originally designed by McKim, Mead & White.

(Caps doffed to Daniel Morales for sending word of this speech to the TradArch list.)

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Euston Station today. (Alamy)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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