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London Underground By Design Paperback – 18 Jan 2013
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I wouldn't ordinarily enthuse about one book at such length, but this is an important work...not because it's an entertaining read (it is), but because it identifies the birth of a brand...and records the birth of a new idea - the transport interchange. (Kevin McCloud Grand Designs Magazine)
Mark Ovenden has devotedly documented the designs associated with [the Underground] ... "addictive" for anyone interested in the look of everyday life. (Telegraph)
A wonderful, handsome book ... it makes me want to nerd out, get a travel card and whiz out to the strange ends of Metroland or the UFO shape of Southgate station. (Robert Bownes/Andrew Tuck Monocle Weekly)
This beautifully illustrated history is a worthy tribute [to 150 years of design]. (Shortlist)
[Praise for Great Railway Maps of the World]: Just the ticket ... it is a glorious celebration of the pioneering history - and romance - of the railways (Sunday Times Travel Books of the Year 2011)
This is a terrific coffee table book. It's a work of art in itself. Mark Ovenden has created a book that will transport the lucky recipient on an eccentric and world tour they will not forget (Bookseller)
About the Author
Mark Ovenden is a British writer and broadcaster. His previous books are Metro Maps of the World , Paris Metro Style and Great Railway Maps of the World. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and lives in London.
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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There are many previously unpublished drawings and photos plus copious well-shot modern images from the classic 1930s stations right up to the Jubilee line and Overground.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.
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...
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.
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