About this time last year, Siemens unveiled their vision for the future of the London Underground: an innovative, lightweight and energy-efficient 'mass transportation solution' with the exterior styling grace of a plastic worm, and all the interior character of a hospital waiting room. When Priestmangoode unveiled their design for the New Tube for London last week, we breathed a sigh of relief that they didn't let the engineers design it.
The New Tube design comes two and half years after the Heatherwick's New Routemaster hit the roads of the capital and follows recent news that the city's upcoming Crossrail project (the hugely ambitious underground rail line cutting directly through the centre of London) will have exterior, interior and livery designed by Barber Osgerby when it opens doors to commuters in 2017. All told, we're pleased to see that London is turning to top British designers to shape the city's public realm.
Highly regarded for their work in aviation and interiors and designers of next generation trains the world over, London-based agency Priestmangoode have been working on the commission for the past three years. The slick renderings, video and model (to be exhibited in King's Cross station) make up only part of a design vision for the trains due to be tendered for production, with 250 of them expected to be rolled out by 2020 across four lines.
With an aging underground system feeling the strain of the 8.4 million (and counting) population of the city, the new trains can't come soon enough for London's commuters. The new design has been conceived to dramatically increase efficiency. Double doors along the train will get passengers on quicker and with more joints than previous models, the highly articulating design hugs the platform tighter at stations, which could even spell the end of London's distinctive "Mind the Gap' warnings. Designs for the doors also incorporate lights signalling their opening and closing to passengers—reminiscent of Preistmangoode's inspired Moving Platform's concept. On top of increased effeciency, Londoners can also look forward to air conditioning and on board wifi.
The styling of the New Tube seems a fitting and sensitive update to its predecessor. The exterior has a stripped-back design in recognizable, white, red and blue and a sleek black glass face with distinctive LED lighting. The interior has a nod to Heatherwick's bus with muted tones for the textiles and handrails (the later all-too-often slapped in with a garish yellow) and sophisticated lighting. The interior is finished with surprisingly high-end detailing— armrests and grills below the seating in a gleaming chrome (let's see if that makes it into production).
Some controversy surrounds the design as eccentric Mayor of London Boris Johnson confirmed that the new model will allow the need for drivers to be phased out sometime in the 2020s. Whilst we must all spare a thought for the drivers soon to be out of a job, we can also glad that this driverless future is looking a lot more characterful than it did this time last year.
Siemen's 2013 vision for the future of London underground
Sam Dunne is a designer, strategist and writer based in London. Sam is founder of design strategy agency Cohere and Contributing Editor at Core77—reporting broadly on design, technology, food and object culture.