Those faced with a considerable commute each morning can take two approaches: consider the most mind-numbing part of your day or cherish it as the most mindful. One way to do this is in London is to take note of what each Tube station looks like as you pass them by.
Never mind the lush Misguided ads or calls to check out the hottest career seminars, non-profit organizations, phone service carriers or the films or books or liquor in England. Consider the actual tiles lining the train platform.
Earlier this evening, I was clicking around on the Travel section of a website called HexJam. There were all sorts of cheeky, Brit-centric posts there, including:
- “11 mistakes every London newbie makes”, like trying to get anywhere in just 30 minutes or finding a seat at a pub, even on a weekday.
- “11 American-sized things vs. British-sized things,” which calls us out for the size of our Big Gulps and burgers and patriotic displays and churches.
- “Here are the 10 sexiest accents in the world, according to Brits,” which, in a startling upset, ranks America’s nasally, hard twang above the Scots and the Welsh. The social justice scholar in me wants to know why all of the accents in the Top 10 are Western, but that’s an inquiry for another day.
One article that aroused the history nerd in me was “This is why London Tube stations have unique tiling.” The headline piqued my interest, because a subconscious part of me has noticed that every Tube station is, in fact, unique.
Sometimes, I’ll come to a stop that tickles my brain for a reason I can’t put my finger on. Then it will hit me and I’ll realize I have passed by this stop before, on one journey or another. I’ll take note of that geometric pattern or brush of foliage that makes this Tube station distinct.
In an article by Mental Floss, it was brought to to light that Tube stations were given unique tiling to help the illiterate Tube commuter. Even if someone couldn’t read, they could at least recognize their stop and hop off the train at the proper time.
Now, if you are illiterate, you can rely on Tube voice-over. At least on the train, TfL is pretty good about having them to tell you which stop is coming up.
The design stories behind all of tile mosaics on the Victoria line can be found on its website.
This includes the obvious, such as the “ton of bricks” representing Brixton. This also includes the less apparent, such as the Queen’s silhouette, nods to modern art near the Tate Modern and how Finsbury Park was a dueling hotspot.
If not for accessibility, the Tube tiling is aesthetically pleasing. As I noted when I went to Berlin, the stamped windows of the U-Bahn and the cheerful yellow motif were super cute. It really does make a difference if you have to spend 30 minutes, 45 minutes or an hour each day in a hot, sweaty, run-down car as opposed to a hot, sweaty, beautiful car.
I have nothing particularly to say about D.C.’s Metro stations. Step your game up!
Except for the fact you can absolutely tell which trains are the newest ones. The 7000 Series rail cars, as they are called, are sleek and chromatic and look like something out of “Divergent.”
Of course, that’s not to say the Tube hasn’t had its cars in dire need of an upgrade. Apparently, the Bakerloo line was looking absolutely worse for wear until last year. Some people were calling the conditions inhumane, beyond disgusting.
If you get the chance, have a look around next time you’re taking the Tube. Underneath the layers of commercialist stimuli and the allure of shiny new goods + services, you might see something that speaks to your soul.