1. Transport
December 3, 2015

TfL just released its new blueprint for tube station design. Here's what it means

By Nicole Badstuber

Yesterday, Transport for London (TfL) released its new design bible for London Underground stations. The Design Idiom is a blueprint to create better-designed stations – clutter free, streamlined, yet unique. The Idiom presents a vision of a future station and celebrates the heritage of its network.

Rather than being a vanity project, TfL sees this design guidance as a key part of its “Fit for the Future” upgrade programme. The idea is that good design can help passenger navigate the network, improve passenger flows, boost passenger satisfaction with the built environment and create better a working environment for the staff. The new bible seeks to create functional spaces from long-lasting, durable materials whilst preserving its design legacy and injecting moments of delight on a uninspiring commute.

The Future Station

TfL envisages future London Underground stations in TfL blue, heritage bronze and polished concrete. A consistent theme in the Idiom is that is seeks to create a recognisable and unified design without each station loosing its uniqueness.

An extract from the Design Idiom guide. Click to expand. Image: TfL. 

Therefore, the Design Idiom suggests a range of textures and materials to use within the defined colour palette. The 2015 palette is an evolution from the design template used on the Jubilee Line Extension – distinguished by its “concrete cathedral” stations.

The widespread use of dark blue, intended to create dramatic spaces that reflect the brand identity, is the most striking feature of the new palette.

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The Design Idiom’s guide to tube tiling. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The more nuanced use of lighting is also new. Instead of stark, uniformly light spaces, TfL is adopting lighting practice from the retail sector to create environments more suited to their function. Spotlights will be placed on exits, ticket barriers and escalators, so as to better light the travelling public through the station.

Cannon Street station showcases a number of the design interventions outlined in the Design Idiom acted as a test bed. Initially, the design principles will be integrated into any ongoing station refurbishment works such Sloane Square.

Flash Cards

London’s patchwork of tube lines features an array of different architectural styles. The map below classifies each station: each shares a set of common design elements such as colours, materials and interiors.


This map shows which station is built in which style. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The prominent architects that shaped the design heritage of London Underground stations, such as Leslie Green and Charles Holden, each now have their own station design style. To guide any work done at station each category has its own flash card, setting out the appropriate colour scheme and materials. Those without a distinctive heritage style are set to get the 2015 make over in due course. 

The flashcards detail the predominant colours, architectural features and materials found at the particular station type. Each flashcard offers examples of how the colour palette and materials have been used at different stations across the network. The examples of specific materials and spaces within stations allow the Design Idiom reader to easily visualise how the palette could be applied.

A sample flashcard, showing the Holden (Northern style) station design guide. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The 9 principles of the design idiom

There are nine guiding principles of the Design Idiom. These are to be applied to every style of station and any intervention, however, small.

The principles seek to encourage well-considered design that looks at the context of the intervention. Stations are to preserve their individuality and community character whilst clearly reflecting that they belong to the TfL family. 

1.Achieve Balance Across The Network

Balance between competing demands: between form and function, heritage and modernity, commerce and public service, individuality and brand identity, operation and ambience.

2. Look Beyond The Bostwick Gates

Consideration of the wider station environment: beyond the station boundary. How does the station fit into the local neighbourhood? Who does it service? Does it reflect the local identity? How it the tube station facilitating interchange with other transport modes?

(“The Bostwick gates”, incidentally, are the steel shutters that are pulled across station entrances at night when the station closes.)

3. Consider Wholeness

From “platform to pavement”: rather than creating a patchwork of spaces, create a de-cluttered station with a consistent design theme, which reflects its heritage throughout and integrates with other modes seamlessly.

4. Prioritise Comfort for Staff and Customers

Staff are central to the delivery of London Underground’s services. Stations are to be welcoming spaces designed to support staff in their various roles.

5. Delight and Surprise

By preserving and creating distinctive and unique features at stations – whether that is artistic, architectural or a remarkable feat of engineering – passengers are to enjoy moments of delight and surprise on their journey.

6. Use Materials To Create Atmospheric Space

The Design Idiom encourages materials that are of high quality and robust enough to age well: materials that wear in, not wear out. When choosing materials operational demands are to be considered alongside heritage, aesthetics and the importance of creating welcoming spaces. 

7. Create Ambience With Lighting

Whilst lighting must fulfil its primary role of creating safe, functional environment, the Design Idiom argues that it can do more. Lighting can aid passenger flow and guide passengers, and create ambience.

8. Integrate Products And Services

This principle calls for thought to be given to both the choice as well as the position of products and services within the station to create user friendly environments that are logically laid out and facilitate smooth passenger flow.

9. Prepare For The Future

“‘Future-proof” stations by design adaptable environments that allow rapid adoption of emerging technology as well as reassignment of space for new activities when existing technologies become redundant. The principle highlights the importance of whole life costing of design interventions.

You can see the whole Design Idiom guide here.

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