Green v Holden

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Do you prefer Leslie Green stations or Charles Holden ones? It’s a sort of Beatles or Rolling Stones question. One of our members who is an expert in such matters, takes up the discussion…

A guest post by Gareth Edwards, editor of London Reconnections

Leslie Green - Charles Holden

Leslie Green (1875 – 1908) and Charles Holden (1875 – 1960)

Green or Holden? It’s a tricky question. It’s hard to dispute that in strictly design terms Holden’s stations are superior, but I genuinely believe that Green deserves more praise than Holden for his work, which I know isn’t a popular view.

I’m happy to admit that this probably sounds a bit silly, but I’ll try and explain:

Holden’s work on the Underground is amazing, and it deserves all the credit it gets, but the truth is that Holden had a relatively easy time of it.

OF COURSE Holden’s stations are great. OF COURSE they represent an excellent example of the Arts and Crafts movement’s principle that real things should be designed well. OF COURSE they did because Holden had the time, the luxury and – most importantly – the senior management support from the legendary Frank Pick that allowed him to make them that way. Yes he had plenty of issues, but fundamentally he was gifted a working environment in which he had a pretty easy path to success.

Green, by contrast, had the exact opposite situation. In Charles Tyson Yerkes, the epitome of the American “Railway Robber Baron”, Green found himself working for a man who wanted high art at low cost, who was pushing stations and lines forward at speeds that gave little regard to what was actually practical from an architect’s perspective, and who had no problem with sacking anyone who he felt wasn’t meeting his needs. People can be sniffy about Green’s stations all they want, but to produce anything close to quality architecture under those circumstances is an incredible testament to his ability.

Holden produced beautiful stations because of his boss’ goals. Green produced beautiful stations DESPITE his boss’ goals.

There’s almost something class-based about it I suppose (isn’t there always in Britain?). Holden’s stations, much as I love them, often leave me feeling slightly out of place. Unconsciously, I think Holden and Pick created distinctly “middle-class” stations – even in areas that resoundingly weren’t. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just that they feel like stations designed to gently, but politely, teach one to be a better person, but which gained the luxury to do so through a position of privilege of which they’re not innately aware.

Green’s stations, on the other hand, feel like “working class” spaces (despite Green himself not being so). Stations that look good almost despite themselves – because the man on the spot doing them had pride in his work and maximized what he had at his disposal. Not perfect, and not to be fussed over, but something a man could be proud of nonetheless.

If I stand in a Holden station and close my eyes, I hear the sound of architecture lectures, if I do the same in a Green station, I hear the sound of football crowds. Green’s stations feel like they worked hard at an inner city comprehensive to get to University, Holden’s feel like their parents could afford extra maths tuition on the side, just to make sure.

That’s why Holloway Road will always be my favourite station I suspect. Holden’s stations will always be more beautiful, that I know for sure, but somehow Green made his stations just feel like…

…well, like me.

holloway road station

Holloway Road Station (1906) by Leslie Green. The most complete of his surviving stations.

arnos grove station

Arnos Grove Station (1932) by Charles Holden, considered by many to be his finest.

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