3: Subway maps

Maps, although not unmediated memory images in themselves, also point towards a mirroring between 1914-18 and 1958-65. In this instance, as with the previous entry, it is useful to look at the location of the public conveniences (the obvious irony of them being not at all convenient can be taken as indicative of something else happening).

Trench systemMarble Arch map

Above: Map of typical trench system; Below: Marble Arch subway map

Architect’s intention: The pedestrian system, including the conveniences, are intended to smooth the flow of pedstrians through a busy London junction. All directions are made possible without contact with cars.

Effect in practice: The complexity of the maze of tunnels isolates users in an underground world with no visual link to its surroundings.

Visual effect:
Looking at both plans, they represent constructed worlds, cut off from the outside world yet essential to it at the same time.

Phenomenological effect: At night, the Marble Arch pedestrian subway system is almost unimaginably insecure (its ‘unimaginable’ nature is important in terms of PTSD), with the plaza outside the toilets, sunk well below ground level, cut off from the streets and the park; blind corners are numerous and bushes at ground level further distance the site from the city above. To reach the toilets at night reproduces, to a frightening degree, the psychic effort needed to traverse wartime trenches, often towards the latrines, in the dark. A sense of danger seems to have been deliberately created, yet for the most banal of functions.

The effort required to reach the conveniences is extraordinary: from the east side of Park Lane, it would entail descending or ascending five flights of stairs and turning six, blind, 90-degree corners. That this was not considered a convincing reason for an alternative design now seems strange, almost surreal. It is as if what was being dealt with was not day-to-day pedestrian flows, but other psychological needs which spoke through the plans themselves, and the experiences they forced on people.