Home > Architecture & Urban Design, Design, Graphics & Illustration, Things I Like... > Edward Johnston, Frank Pick, Charles Holden (& Harry Beck)

Edward Johnston, Frank Pick, Charles Holden (& Harry Beck)

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Born within 6 years of each other, the three very distinguished looking Gentlemen below are Edward Johnston (1872), Charles Holden (1875) and Frank Pick (1878) who between them had an effect on the appearance of London at the beginning of the Twentieth Century that is still evident today.

After many years working with trains, Frank Pick became the Commercial Manager of Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in 1912. He became increasingly unhappy with the diversity and seemingly endless variations of typefaces that were being across the system. One of his first key actions was to introduce a standardised approach to advertising and lettering when in 1915, he commissioned typographer Edward Johnston to design a clear new typeface for use on all Underground Group buildings, rolling stock and publications.

Johnston’s typeface, (known as Johnston sans) was first used in 1916 and was so successful that it was used virtually unchanged up until 1979 when it was (slightly) reworked for the modern age. The typefaces success was down to its flexibility and legibility. My favourite element has always been the diamond-shaped dot over the letter i. When compared to the elegant roundedness of the other letters, it has always seemed to me a rather odd and incongruous addition.

Interestingly, London Transport managed to retain almost exclusive use of the font as issue of the small metal and larger wooden letter blocks was restricted to a very small number of printers.

Johnston was also responsible for redesigning the roundel or bullseye device that still adorns underground stations to this day, with this drawing from 1925, clearly showing that the proportions and colours have remained largely unaltered.

Also in this period, Frank Pick met Charles Holden, a gifted young architect who during a twenty year period up to the War, designed some of the most iconic of London Underground Buildings using a distinctive Scandinavian inspired, clean modern style which Pick felt was appropriate for his modern system.

Holden’s works include all seven stations on the Northern Line extension from Clapham Common south to Morden (opened in 1927) all eight stations on the Piccadilly Line extension (from Manor House to Cockfosters (completed in 1933) and in the late 1920’s possibly his finest achievement for the network, the new Headquarters Building at 55 Broadway, a huge cruciform building, the outside of which, was adorned with a series of stunning bas-relief sculptures by Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore and Eric Gill.

The last name on the list is that of Harry Beck (1902 – 1974). A generation younger than the three gentleman referred to above, he nevertheless had as large an impact on the design world (and arguably an even greater one).

Under the appointment once again of the great Frank Pick, Beck in 1933, proposed a new map of the underground stations. Inspired by electricity circuit diagrams where distances are not as important as the order of the elements, Harry Beck’s new map was an instant success and is still the basis for transport system maps around the world.

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