on 19 January 2013
If you've ever taken the Tube in London, this book will engross you from the second you pick it up! It seems to be written from an incredibly accessible perspective: to inform both the lay person with the most casual interest through to those with some knowledge of the system, and the author claims even the experts will find something new in this. There is even a degree of humour (a spread on a famous station is headlined: "It's like Piccadilly Circus in here" - so refreshing to find a history book which doesn't take itself too seriously).
There are quite a few books on the Underground, but none that conveys the beauty and intelligence of its design like this cleverly put together and unputdownable compendium.
It starts with a beautifully crafted introduction by Channel 4's king of taste Kevin McCloud (Grand Designs) and immediately opens to reveal how even in 1863 (when the worlds first Underground was built) there was some attention to design detail (previously unacknowledged claims the author). The pictures and text just absorb you into detail you never knew you wanted to know but feel so satiated by having found out. The main section of the book gives unparalleled detail to the way the famous Underground "roundel" (its logo) was born - again this appears to be the first time such intricate detail have been so revealed.
There are many previously unpublished drawings and photos plus copious well-shot modern images from the classic 1930s stations right up to the Jubilee line and Overground.
The handy size and weight of this book give it practical pick-up-and-flick-through-ability and I for one was loathed to put it down even for a break - but a friend who took it after me just loved dipping in and looking up specific things. It seems to work on many levels.
The author claims that some of his revelations are quite new, and since I'm a skeptical bugger I looked some of these up online and indeed he does seem to be ahead of even the prestigious London Transport Museum website and places like Wikipedia. So bravo to Ovenden on a well researched book and do give it a try. You'll learn something, have a wry smile, and be able to regale your friends with fascinating facts about the history of the way the Underground looks.
Good design has been integral to the smooth operation of the London Underground yet most people using the tube will barely register more than the odd advertising poster. This book highlights the history of many aspects of design on the London Underground from its development in the 19th Century through to the present day.
Mark Ovenden delves into the history of everything from the London Underground logos through to station buildings, advertising posters and even the typeface used on signs and documents. Starting with the individual operating companies at the inception of the railways, the book is organised by historical period. This is the only slight issue I have with the book - and it is purely a personal one! It may have been better to group the chapters by category (such as logos, typefaces, advertising) etc which would have better showed the development. However this is a purely personal view and doesn't detract from the book. Indeed grouping in this way allows you to see the development of the social aspects of design throughout the ages - items such as posters and advertising give a fascinating insight into wider society and the selection of materials really gives a feel for the social norms at the time.
One of (many) excellent elements of the book is the recognition of the people behind the designs complete with pen portraits which is often missing from design books.
The quality of the pictures in the book is superb with excellent reproduction. The selection is also excellent and must have taken a while to select. This is a book you can read from cover to cover or just dip into. Now if Penguin would just issue a smaller handbook size to carry around on the Tube...
on 12 February 2013
This year is the sesquicentennial of the first subway line in London, the grandfather of all subway systems. There have been countless technological changes since then, and the system has become huge with connections all over the city and outside of it. The changes in technology are a mere side issue within _London Underground by Design_ (Penguin Books) by subway enthusiast Mark Ovenden. His subject is the look and design of trains, stations, maps, signage, and more. It is a comprehensive survey with capsule biographies of the planners and designers through the decades, and it fittingly has hundreds of pictures covering all aspects of the system's design. People take over a billion trips on the system every year; engines and cars do the work, of course, but Ovenden shows that matters of design are far from superficial, and that they make the system work more efficiently. It isn't a new lesson, that good design makes for an esthetic appeal as well as increasing job effectiveness, but it is vibrantly displayed here.
The Tube system grew from the first underground run by the Metropolitan Railway, and Ovenden suggests that even then there were some marks of a coherent style. Coherence was not a characteristic of signage, one of the most important aspects of design covered here. The sans-serif letters on signs had little unity, and as shown in many pictures here, were overwhelmed by commercial bills and posters. Everything changed when Frank Pick, Commercial Manager of the Underground and a hero in these pages for his emphasis on efficient design, commissioned Edward Johnston in 1913 to come up with a typeface to be used throughout the system. Johnston's creation, now known as Johnston Sans, has been a foundation of Underground design ever since. It can be spotted by its perfectly circular O and the slight fancy of a diagonal square dot over the i and the j. Graphic design is on display perhaps most famously in the tube maps, made schematic rather than geographical by a cartographic amateur Harry Beck in 1933. Beck used a symbolic cartography, with train lines and even the Thames flowing horizontally, vertically, or at 45 degree angles only. Not only has his map been used ever since, other subway systems around the world have drawn themselves using Beck's style as a guide. Like any sensible firm, the Underground has paid special attention to its advertisements, the posters set around the station. Reproduced here are many classic ones, posters that are bestsellers at the London Transport Museum; people are ready to frame these and hang them on their walls, which is not what usually happens to advertisements. The largest review of station buildings presented here are the suburban ones built from 1930 to 1945. They are inspired by buildings that Pick and his architect Charles Holden saw on a tour of Europe. Though Holden jokingly referred to them as "brick boxes with concrete lids," they are rationalist in style and have handsome towers and rotundas, with art deco lamps and seating. Included here are pictures of the new Canary Wharf station, inspired by the same "rationalist" school. It is all glass and brushed metal, and it looks futuristic and sleek, fit for the twenty-first century.
There are sections here on the history of the roundel, the famous blue bar over a red ring that has become the symbol of London Transport, and on the "wordmark" of the enlarged initial and final letter in "UndergrounD." There are descriptions of intelligent signage experiments, where paper signs were tested and found functional before permanent enamel signs were installed. There are many descriptions of how design contributed to "wayfinding," scientific studies of passenger flow and decision making by passengers as they sought the right trains. There are pictures to show how the cars themselves have evolved, or how particular stations are decorated. The book represents in a fascinating way how after 150 years and revolutionary technological changes, the Underground presents a confident corporate identity because it has achieved a useful unity of design in many of its diverse enterprises.
I fully admit that I am a geek and love the London Underground, however I do make the exception of the northbound Northern Line during rush hour! The design is integral to the system and although most of us rush through the stations at a rate of knots, sometimes it's nice to linger a little and soak in such design details as the tiling at the stations, the Art Deco flourishes and countless other things.
Released to tie in with the Underground's 150th anniversary this book provides the reader with a comprehensive history of the system with an emphasis on the design aspects. My personal faves are the diagrams which show the cut away layers of the stations, plus the original designs for the different lines. The maps also get quite a lot of coverage, which is very apt as they're at the centre of most people's tube experience. As well as having a range of technicolour images, the book also charts the Underground's various pioneers.
Finally, I do have to make special mention of the architecture on the Piccadilly Line - I'd heard that it was impressive, but it's darn well amazing in my opinion. It's made me want to pack some sandwiches, a tartan flask and a camera and head up there. As for the book itself, it's very much a coffee table reference tome, but it's great. The author doesn't set himself an easy task to make such things interesting, but he makes a really good job of it.
on 26 February 2013
I love this book. As a Londoner I use the Tube a fair bit when travelling about London (Congestion Charge? Parking extortion? Boris Bikes or stinking buses? No Thanks)and I love the way that one can still find little oases of history dotted about the system, now getting appreciation (and not before time) for the gems of design and art they are.
This book will heighten awareness of those gems - it covers 150 years of history during which time the notion of an UndergrounD railway went from fantasy to commonplace, from deadly rival companies to a unified network and at the same time turned the advertising of those services from Victorian bombast to the sweet subtleties of some of the best 20th and 21st commercial art.
The text is comprehensive, the illustrations sumptuous (I LOATHE that word as much as I do the terms scrumptious and scrummy - but no other will do). There are photographs and poster reproductions in glorious and vivid colour, as well as restored/recreated monochome pictures that will have the artistically minded regretting that they did not take photographs of some vanished confection in terracotta or glazed brick before they disappeared under modern glass and concrete (Blackfriars Station is a case in point - I passed that place SO OFTEN)
The London Underground (and its recent additions the Docklands Light Railway and the "Overground" generated from the old North London and East London Lines) is a living, evolving entity that even now still grows.
Buy this book
Read this book
Enjoy this book.
As a continuous read or a dip-and-look-up it's wonderful. The illustrations could do with being larger, but that would entail extra cost and weight; they are still detailed enough to make a magnifier worthwhile.
I use the Underground a few times each year. Sometimes it is merely practical, and sometimes I notice odd bits of design around it. This book is written by someone who has been paying close attention to the Underground and its design for many years. It's a well written and well illustrated book, that helps readers to see that the underground is not just a transport system, but actually a complex product that reflects and shapes the city and its people. It's nice to see the human stories of the engineers and others who actually put the underground together and keep it running. The book is just the right length, with enough detail to be worth reading, but not so much that you get lost in it.
This is an interesting quirky book, that will have interest to those who use the Underground, which is nearly all of us at some stage. I suspect it will lift some commuter's eyes off the drudgery of the daily journey, and may make their journeys more interesting. At the very least it shows well how much effort has gone into making the Underground what it is today.
What a brilliant book. The history of London underground based on the design of its stations, its posters, its signs, its maps etc. If you are interested in transport history, nostalgia, or design you should love this book. It is packed full of photographs and illustrations. It is so packed that it highlights its one problem. Page size is small and up to a dozen posters can be packed on a page. It makes it really difficult to appreciate all the illustrations properly. Much as I love the book I have to take off a star for an opportunity missed.
This is a fabulous book, brought out to coincide with London Underground's 150th anniversary.
It serves as chronological history of the Tube, but is so much more. There's the early pioneers (because London's Tube was the first in the world), engineers and designers; how the stations have changed in their design as the network spread; the posters advertising it; the maps, and hundreds of photos.
It's a fascinating account with all manner of leaflets, timetables, station signs to illustrate things along the way. Even the changes made for last year's Olympic Games are highlighted, so it's a complete history of the design and development of the past 150 years.
The advent of the London Underground even brought about a new typeface (aka) font. What could be a more appropriate font choice for this book than the updated version: New Johnston.
This is a must read for any Tube traveller, or any railway or design enthusiast.
The London Underground is 150 years old this year and for many people in the capital a means of getting to work, an irritation, a thing of beauty! Mark Ovenden celebrates the design of the system in this richly illustrated book in a highly readable and delightful way. The illustrations are fascinating and I was particularly intrigued to see the old maps and routes which predate Henry Beck's iconic transformation in 1931. How wonderful to see Beck's original pencil sketch - one of the book's many treasures. Anyone who loves the underground will be find much to enjoy in this marvellous celebration of London's underground history by design. Fantastic.