UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Rebuilding the Euston Arch

Euston Arch

by Dr Joe Cain

Query from BBC reporter

In July 2008, I was asked by BBC reporter, Trevor Timpson, what I thought about the campaign to rebuild the "Euston Arch". The campaign, run by the Euston Arch Trust, is here: <www.eustonarch.org>

This is what I wrote in reply:

I support the sentiment of the campaign, and I would press their idea farther. I don’t want just an arch built. Ideally, I’d like to see the whole screen rebuilt – that’s the Doric arch plus a series of sheds and fencing along a straight line – the arch draws your attention, but the whole point was to screen the technology behind it – i.e., the belching, steaming, greasy, stinking, boiling, noisy trains behind it.  The screen is the idea; not the arch alone. As a historian, I’d rather our attention focus on the process of screening itself – hiding technology behind veils (“design” for mp3 players, “escape” for transport luxuries, “allure” for clothing, and so on). At the very least, I’d like to see the arch and screen remembered _somehow_ in the redesign so people are reminded of that process of screening. In fact, that would be my brief to the design team: commemorate the arch by commemorating its original purpose. If nothing else they could re-build the screen as a flat 2-dimensional façade somehow into the station. But if they thought of more powerful ways to provoke reflection about the original idea of screening, then I could support that with little problem. I don’t want to treat the Doric Arch in isolation as a relic; and I wouldn’t want an isolated re-built Doric arch as some kind of trophy to preservation. Moreover, the money spent on such a rebuilding could quite usefully be focused on preserving the period’s original structures that still stand, such as St Pancras Parish Church.

Any rebuilding will have problems: (1) the spacing of the original screen is far too cramped for current, much less for future, demands on the station – this was one of the reasons the arch was removed in the redevelopment – compare it with the screen in Hyde Park Corner to get the same impact (though this was no reason for destroying the Doric Arch in the first place), and (2) you could never site an arch on its original location, as the station has moved south and the original spot now is located deep within the functioning station – it just wouldn’t make sense to put the arch back where it originally stood – it would be like restoring a bridge over a runway at Heathrow.

I don’t agree the current station is an “abject failure” as some on the campaign claim. I used to. But after learning more about the design concepts, I came to appreciate it. I don’t like it myself as a design, still I admire some of the decisions put into effect – such as the low rise of office floors tying the towers together – that echoes the hotel and underpass it replaced. It also makes a fine backdrop to the stunning statues on the war memorial in Euston Grove.

This should give you some idea of my thoughts about the campaign and its context. If you’d like more, or more about that corner of town, let me know. For instance, one of the white tile planters in the courtyard is on the spot where once lived Robert Edmond Grant – who taught Darwin about evolution, who taught zoology at UCL for about 40 years, and who founded the museum now in his name – the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy. ...

For a history of Euston Grove and the arch, here. Also, the historical pages at the Euston Arch Trust are very good; well worth reading here.