There’s a lot to find inside TfL’s detailed new booklet, including a map and “flashcards” that categorize stations by appearance.

No stone or platform tile is left unturned in the London Underground Station Design Idiom. The 225-page guide, an official Transport for London document, covers nearly ever possible design issue a TfL employee or hired designer will have to face at an Underground station.

If you don’t work for TfL you don’t really need to read it, but it’s the kind of guide a transit enthusiast can’t put down. It also provides a reassuring message to riders—a public document that declares a commitment to high design standards and thoughtful preservation.

“Good design should be the driver of decision-making, should permeate every level of the organisation, and should, ultimately, be celebrated by everyone,” Gareth Powell, London Underground’s Director of Strategy, writes in its preface. “It doesn’t have to cost more; it’s an approach and an attitude of mind that thinks both broadly and carefully about what we do,” he adds.

The guide covers everything from platform lighting to ticketing areas, but the most rewarding section for lay people is the one filled with “Idiom Flashcards” (page 198). In it, stations are organized by design type with each category providing a guide for color scheme, materials, and special features, along with a brief story behind the construction period.

Best of all, it’s introduced with a twist on the famous Underground map: every line is gray while each station has a color dot that identifies which of the system’s 20 design periods it belongs to:


Followed by the “flashcards”:

“2015 Palette — Stations that do not preserve any major elements of the above design types and that would be reconstructed, redeveloped or modernised using the 2015 LU Design Idiom.”
“JLE style — An important group of stations from the 1999 Jubilee line extension to Stratford. Overseen by architect Roland Paoletti. These stations are among the finest late 20th Century public buildings in the UK.”
“Late 1970s — Only two stations (Hatton Cross and Bond Street), idiomatic of the lull in construction at this time, demonstrate the use of concrete and almost ‘Brutalism’ architecture of the period.”
“Victoria line style — Designed by the Design Research Unit for LT’s two-stage opening of the Victoria line in 1969–71. Only Blackhorse Road has a surface presence. Below ground spaces denoted by the use of grey shade 6ins x 6ins ceramic tiles with stainless steel trims, only enlightened by the unique designs of tiles to the seat alcoves at platform levels.”
“Holden (Picadilly Style) — Designed by Charles Holden primarily for the 1932/33 Piccadilly line extensions. These stations marked a new era in Underground stations, with groundbreaking use of brick, concrete and spatial layouts. ”
“Leslie Green — One of the trademark styles of stations, these opened in 1906/07 and were designed by Leslie Green. They feature oxblood red faience exteriors, ceramic tiled ticket halls and platforms distinguished by colour patterns which are unique to each station.”
“Great Northern — These are Victorian brick built stations dating from the 1870s and transferred to London Underground in 1940.”

The Idiom is on exhibit at Platform, an art space behind Southwark Underground station. It’s just one element of TfL’s “Transported by Design” programming that runs until 2017. Up next month, a celebration of Johnston, the typeface that was created by Edward Johnston and Eric Gill in 1916 and that’s been synonymous with London’s public transit ever since.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    Brooklyn Is Booming. So Why Is It Shrinking?

    In 2017, New York City’s largest borough lost about 2,000 people, the first net loss since 2010.

  2. A brownstone in Brooklyn, where Airbnb growth has been particularly strong in recent years.

    What Airbnb Did to New York City

    Airbnb’s effects on the city’s housing market have been dramatic, a report suggests. And other cities could soon see the same pattern.

  3. Life

    Amazon Go Might Kill More Than Just Supermarkets

    Supermarkets are community anchors. Amazon’s “just walk out” version embodies a disconcerting social transformation.

  4. Maps

    How Hyperconnected Cities Are Taking Over the World

    “Political geography is not determinant anymore, because cities are more important.”

  5. A young refugee from Kosovo stands in front of a map of Hungary with her teacher.

    Who Maps the World?

    Too often, men. And money. But a team of OpenStreetMap users is working to draw new cartographic lines, making maps that more accurately—and equitably—reflect our space.