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Sensitive Design: It Works

Jonathan Schofield likes a wooden hut on the Oxford Road Station platform

Written by . Published on November 28th 2011.

Sensitive Design: It Works

I WAS sneaking around Oxford Road Station taking pictures for one of my Good, the Standard and the Ugly architectural articles when I came across a wooden hut. This, I thought, needs pointing out on its lonesome. This shouldn't get lost as a subsidiary point. 

Now to replace some shocking and inappropriate shelters Northern Rail has spent some time and money and care to achieve the correct solution with curving free forms. It's encouraging.

I took some photographs. 

"How long has this been here?" I asked a man cleaning the windows on the hut.

"A month or so," he said, "but you'll have to stop taking pictures, it's not allowed on station property."

"Won't stop," I said and took another picture. "Why must I?"

"Security," he said.

"Nonsense," I said, "you can examine the whole building on Google Earth in about four seconds flat."

"Oh all right then," he said and gave up. 

All of which irritating banter has got me off the point.

Recently passengers have been able to enjoy improvement work at Oxford Road.

This includes new platform shelters, refurbished public toilets and new anti-slip stairs. (The use of the word ‘improvement’ with regard to the toilets is interesting as previously they resembled the single water closet in a Victorian tenement serving forty families after the drains had backed-up - only here the situation was spiced with a dash of drug abuse.)

The improvement project cost £500,000, with money coming from the Department for Transport’s National Station Improvement Programme (NSIP), Northern Rail and Transport for Greater Manchester.

What's interesting is that Northern Rail who provided the shelters took account of the listed status of this beautiful timber station and acted accordingly.

Oxford Road And Liverpool 074Beautiful station building masked by an unwise 1980s plastic glass canopy

As Lee Wasnidge, Area Director for Northern Rail, told Confidential: “The new shelters are made from cedar timber cladding, which provides not only a warm and dry waiting area, but is also compliant with the Listed Building Consent Process.”

Apparently the work is only the start of things to come to Oxford Road, with further investment and improvement planned by Network Rail under the DfT’s Access for All programme.

Oxford Road Station was completed in 1960 from designs by the Midland Railway architectural team headed by Max Clendinning assisted by Hugh Tottenham of the marvellous sounding Timber Development Association. The pair used laminates of softwoods, curving and sculpting them to create an impression of modernity and movement. More of this in the full write-up to come.

Over the last fifty years the purity of the original design became clogged with all sorts of temporary cheap rubbish - take a look at the horrible canopy on the picture above. Now to replace some shocking and inappropriate shelters Northern Rail has spent time and money and care to achieve a correct solution, with curving freer forms.

It's encouraging. The shelters capture the spirit of the 1960 classic building which surrounds them. It shows how sensitive handling can enhance or at least complement rather than detract from an original.

Well done to the designers Michael Cunningham Architects based in Portland Tower on Portland Street - and thanks to the reader below for supplying the information about the name of the designers that Northern Rail didn't. 

But if I were the station authorities I'd be letting as many people as possible on to those platforms to take pictures and admire their work. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

Oxford Road And Liverpool 087

Oxford Road And Liverpool 089

Oxford Road And Liverpool 088

Oxford Road And Liverpool 064 

Oxford Road And Liverpool 063An original curvy bench

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Richard HollandNovember 28th 2011.

These are the people who did it.....

J. ObsworthNovember 29th 2011.

Dont mean to stick up for 'The Man' but arent train stations and airports covered by the very vague and very tenuous Prevention of Terrorism Act when it come to photography? Not condoning it i hasten to add but im sure an over officious British Transport Police officer could invoke it should they desire.
Anyway - the benches and huts are indeed lovely and well done to all involved. Now if only we could get them to remove the barriers that dont have Listed Building Consent then all would be fab and groovy.

AnonymousNovember 29th 2011.

I like the wooden hut in relation to the usual dirge which is thrown up, I really do but have standards of design and attention to detail really stooped so low that, that wooden hut is worthy of so much praise/attention.

1 Response: Reply To This...
EditorialNovember 29th 2011.

Anon. That's what we do. Bring attention to stuff like this. We love being down and intimate with the city

Lavinia RNovember 29th 2011.

I had pleasure of sitting in the cosy wooden shelter a couple of weeks ago whilst the rain poured down outside. Happy to report that the design also encourages conversation between strangers - how delightful and faintly old school. Perfect for me who loves engage with real human beings rather than any kind of virtual world. So if you want to make new friends sit in one of these for 10 mins! Just hope the authorities remove the awful hideous 1980's plastic thing soon. Aside of being hideously ugly, it doesn't serve any purpose or keep the rain off.

AnonymousNovember 29th 2011.

Fair point, wrong side of the bed again.

Howard BamforthNovember 30th 2011.

I caught the Chester train at Oxford Road last week and had to carry heavy cases up and down stairs to cross the line. I was told that the lift is unusable because people have got stuck in it too often! Will the funding extend to a new lift?

trinityboyNovember 30th 2011.

Only place I've been told off for taking pictures of railway stations was Zimbabwe.

No problems here, British Transport Police happy: www.btp.police.uk/…/rail_enthusiasts.aspx…

Although I guess ManCon is commercial?

SpencerSpurchDecember 1st 2011.


ShuttyDecember 1st 2011.

It would be nice to think that the lamp posts could be painted in a colour that would complement the wooden cladding, rather than corporate blue. This would be an immediate and fairly cheap improvement.

I am getting carried away now, but it would be really lovely if the platforms could be paved, perhaps with some similar 1960s patterns (?) that would echo, or at least work with the shapes and structure of the station.

Really great article, thanks!

AnonymousDecember 3rd 2011.

I had grave doubts when I saw these huts being assembled. But i'll concede they've actually turned out alright. The integrated seats aren't too comfy mind. But I like the nod to the 1960s design ethic; it nicely echoes the construction date of most of Northern Rail's trains.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Calum McGDecember 19th 2011.

True :)

AnonymousDecember 22nd 2011.

I was also impressed by the structure and it's very pleasant to look at and be in, it never occurred to me that the curved benches on the platforms were part of an overall vision so this was interesting to read. Whilst the original benches on the platform are very comfortable the integrated seats in the new hut are colossally uncomfortable! My friend suggested this was to stop homeless people staying there too long but I suspect the designer was guilty of putting form over function.

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