1: Underground trenches

Underground trench junctionMarble Arch subway system

Underground trench junction Marble Arch subway system

Architect’s intention: The maze of interlocking tunnels at Marble Arch (a ‘gyratory system’ from 1958-62) allows pedestrians to reach several destinations which have been isolated from each other at surface level by traffic and crash barriers.

Effect in practice:
A subterranean world is created which is large enough to achieve its own sense of identity as a substantial feature in the landscape of London.

Phenomenological effect: The tunnels have no advertising, no retailing functions and originally had little decoration (although some was added later), so the act of crossing a street has become a time when the anonymous pedestrian can become immersed in the act of walking along a tunnel whose destination is unclear, via junctions whose diverging paths to unseen destinations generate a sense of foreboding and insecurity. The blind, constrained corners in subdued light, around which it cannot be known who is lurking, are particularly effective in generating fear. The effect, in other words, is to recreate the physical and emotional conditions of the trenches. The pedestrian is forced to walk in the shoes of the soldier, the anonymous Tommy finding his way through the tunnels and trenches of the Front.

Today, town-planning practice for urban pedestrian flows is based almost entirely on surface crossings which are clearly signposted and as generous in terms of space as possible. Tunnel systems such as here at Marble Arch have come to be seen as being both unnecessary and counter-productive. Their moment was a very particular one, climaxing in the early Sixties. Prior to this, they had not been seen as necessary, afterwards they were seen as dysfunctional. It seems more than a coincidence that they were built only at the point when the processing of traumatic memory predicts that they would.