Paolozzi mosaics could be lost in Tottenham Court Road station revamp

Monday, 26th January 2015

THE £400million revamp of Tottenham Court Road tube station could lead to the loss of two sections of celebrated artworks, the 20th Century Society has warned.

The station, which had a new entrance opened just after Christmas, is currently in the process of a huge rebuilding programme. It includes new entrances and new subterranean halls to help the station cope with the opening of a new Crossrail stop. As part of the project, mosaics by celebrated artist Eduardo Paolozzi are threatened. The mosaics, which were installed in 1982, have become a London landmark and are part of the Underground’s long, rich history of commissioning works to brighten up the experience of travelling by tube.

While Transport for London (TfL) have saved much of Paolozzi’s work in the station, and commissioned new pieces, the 20th Century Society warn that two key areas are destined for the skip unless they can persuade TfL to change their minds. The two parts at risk are large decorative panels at the entrance to the station on the south side of Oxford Street, and two arches above escalators.

The 20th Century Society’s senior conservation adviser, Henrietta Billings, told the New Journal that there was no good design reason that the pieces could not be carefully moved and re-installed elsewhere, or even kept in situ. 

She said: “There are two sections we are really worried about. The arches above the escalators are really the beginning of the Paolozzi experience, and we have not seen any concrete reason they can’t be retained. It is a question of them ‘not fitting’ in with the plans for a double height hall with clean lines."

"The works were a comprehensive scheme designed for the station and this is an important part of it. We have not seen any clear and convincing evidence to say there is nothing that can be done to keep them. We have dealt with post-war mosaics across the country and they can be moved and saved.”

Paolozzi’s work has had a chequered existence in Camden. Two of his pieces take pride of place outside the British Library and at Euston Station, but in 2012 a sculpture based on a self-portrait of the artist as the Greek God Hephaestus, the celestial blacksmith responsible for such gadgets as Eros’s bow and Hermes’s winged sandals, was removed overnight from a Holborn office block and sold at auction for £140,000. 

Ms Billings added: “Transport for London have gone to great lengths to conserve what they can so far, but these sections also deserve saving. 

“In terms of their contribution to this scheme, they are so important. For us, it is part of a bigger picture. To lose it would not just be a loss for the tube and its rich artistic heritage, but for London as a whole.”

Station architect Harbinder Singh Birdi, who is working for the firm Hawkins Brown, in charge of the scheme, said: “We have saved a large percentage and commissioned new artwork. In 2016, when the project is finished, new works behind hoardings will reveal themselves.”

David Waboso, director for capital programmes for TfL’s subsidiary London Underground, told the Architects’ Journal: “As part of the upgrade of Tottenham Court Road station we have cleaned, and are currently in the process of repairing, the existing mosaics at the station, as well as reinstating mosaic panels that needed to be temporarily removed as part of the station capacity essential works. 

“We consider these Paolozzi mosaics to be an important artwork for which we are proud to continue providing a home for at Tottenham Court Road station.  

“We have made great efforts to plan for the retention and restoration of as many of the mosaics as possible.”


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