Often derided, as much for its admittedly shabby appearance and dated frontage, as for how it reduced the Euston Arch to rubble, Euston Station is not a particularly loved building.
However, probably the very largest and most dramatic part of its architecture – something that covers almost the entire waiting concourse is totally ignored by most visitors.
Look up – yes, look at the ceiling. Have you ever noticed it? It’s pretty damn good.
And when you do look up, you can start to see some of the genius of this maligned building. While today the concourse is cluttered up with shabby looking huts in the middle of the floor, originally none of that existed.
When opened, the concourse was an empty open space, with this vast coffered concrete ceiling supported by just a few comparatively slender steel beams. Almost impossible to have been built before, this really is quite an astonishing achievement to have such a vast space with so few pillars cluttering up the floor.
That ceiling is no mere, functional structure though. Notice how the concrete splays out slightly at the joints giving a smoothness to the lines that a pure right angle would have delivered with too harsh an intersection. Subtle curving within the recesses add to the design and add a sense of organic curvature to a brutal structure.
If that ceiling was made of anything other than concrete, it would be considered a marvel. But make it from concrete, and people wont care for it.
Another huge change that we don’t fully appreciate today is that it was not unusual for most stations to have a road running through the middle of the passenger concourse – but Euston pushed all the road facilities for post and parcels underground. Euston was novel in having a wide space totally dedicated to passengers.
It was a functional structure that was in stark contrast to the grand receptions offered visitors to Victorian railways. However, those grand Victorian structures themselves served a commercial purpose — to reassure customers that these new fangled steam monsters were safe stable things controlled by great stable companies.
As trains entered the electric age, was that sort of thing necessary any more?
So we have a functional structure that has however sadly lost most of its original design features, which if they had been retained, could lift this station to the elevated levels of a 1960s heritage icon.
The platforms are dreary, as they are in many stations. The food stalls and shops all have their own clashing aesthetics and there is no sense of an overall controlling plan to tidy up the place. The tiles are dirty, broken and unloved. The signage clinging onto the central supporting pillars disguise the remarkable thinness of those structures.
The less said about the cheap use of up lighters strung on wires between them the better.
Lets step back and look at the building again – shorn of the clutter that has been allowed to build up over the years.
Deploy an ordered single aesthetic to the retail stalls with a suitable 1960s facade surrounding them. Replace the up lighters with something more suitable to highlighting the recesses in the ceiling.
And finally, get rid of the huts in the middle of the concourse.
Let the concourse breathe again, and let people arrive not into a cluster of small patches of empty floor, but into a vast cathedral of space. Let people once again admire the sheer vastness of the roof spans.
None of these changes are expensive, indeed, they are comparatively cheap. But what a huge difference they would make.
Just as St Pancras and King’s Cross are being restored to their Victorian grandeur, why shouldn’t Euston be cleaned up and restored at least superficially to the vast open spaces and clean lines it enjoyed in the 1970s?
People will probably never come to love Euston, but they’ll appreciate it a lot more.