China’s cities are trying to buy their way to cultural prestige, and it’s really weird

This article was published on CityMetric on 22 May 2017.


The turn of the last century was a pretty good time to be a big-shot architect with an eye on China.

Paul Andreu, a French architect, is the brains behind the gargantuan National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, a hulking egg of curving glass, costing upwards of £300m to build in time for a July 2007 opening.

Sitting bizarrely on the reflective surface of its own artificial lake, the complex hosts a concert hall, an opera house, and a theatre – adding up to an impressive total of 5,473 seats. The dome is panelled with Brazilian mahogany, which hardly comes cheap, and floors are covered in marbles of differing shades sourced from 22 different provinces, blended to form a contiguous but varied textured surface.

In short, it’s an impressive space inside, and a formidable landmark from outside.

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Literally just a guide to all of the different types of train on the London Underground

This article was published on CityMetric on 18 May 2017.


For the train lovers of London, last month was an emotional time. On 21 April, the tube said goodbye to one of its most faithful servants – the D stock.

In layman’s terms, the D stock were the trains that ran on the District line from 1980 to 2017. They carried millions of passengers over 37 years until the final journey from Upminster to Ealing Broadway last month.

But despite its recent bereavement, the District line trundles on – as do all the lines, with their own distinct trains. So how well do you know those trains? Whether by the colour of the poles you grab onto, the pattern on the seats, or the fact you have to duck your head as the doors close at rush hour, can you tell the different stock apart?

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For London’s new concert hall to succeed, it must learn lessons from Hamburg

This article was published on CityMetric on 18 May 2017.


With the proud announcement of ‘Fertig’ – ‘finished’ – beaming out in white lights over the chic new neighbourhood of the HafenCity, Hamburg’s finally completed concert hall shone like a beacon of enlightenment amidst the industrial landscape of the river Elbe and its ports.

If you’ve never been to Hamburg, Germany’s largest port and second-largest city, it would be worth it for a visit to the Elbphilharmonie alone. It dominates the dual landscape of Hamburg’s port-side warehouses – the Speicherstadt – and the newly developed HafenCity, and is a phenomenal architectural work by Herzog & de Meuron.

It’s a monument to great design, culture, and ambition, and frankly I’m a little sad we don’t have one in London.

At least, not yet. Because, despite a near-death experience last year, plans for a new concert hall in London are underway once again.

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How did the tube lines get their colours?

This article was published on CityMetric on 12 May 2017.


What if the Central line were blue? Or the Piccadilly was a lurid yellow?

Just for fun, let’s make the Metropolitan line red, too. Spice things up a bit.

If you’re not screaming in anguish by this point, I suggest you shut your laptop and continue with your day.

But if you are, it’s a vital question. Each tube line has its own colour; clear, defined, immutable.

So how did the tube lines get their colours?

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Here are all London’s abandoned tube stations

This article was published on CityMetric on 24 April 2017.


London is a city littered with corpses.

Some of them are visible in plain sight, dejectedly propped up on busy street corners. Only bits of others remain, buried deep below the ground, or barely visible out of the windows of trains passing by.

Mercifully, I’m not talking about actual dead people (because, eww), but abandoned tube stations.

Now as ever with these things, the exact number of such abandoned tube stations depends slightly on how one defines the word “abandoned” – or, indeed, the word “tube”.

Does a tube station that never got opened count as abandoned? Does a tube station that’s still used, but not by the tube, count as abandoned? Does a tube station that was closed, but replaced by a new station that’s really very close, by count as abandoned?

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Which is London’s busiest tube station?

This article was published on CityMetric on 10 April 2017.


Love it or hate it – and if you’re reading an article on this website, let’s be honest, you probably love it – the tube is enormously popular.

Whether it’s the sweaty sardine-tinned masses of the morning northern line crush, or the surprisingly tragic dribbles on the 3am Victoria line night tube, the London Underground and its 270 stations are put to good use.

But which are the busiest?

The easy, simple answer is Waterloo.

According to TfL figures, Waterloo registered 95,138,400 entries and exits in 2015 (the most recent year for which data, at time of writing, is available). This isn’t surprising – it’s a huge railway terminus, and it also the busiest national rail station by passenger numbers in the country.

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Which is London’s deepest tube station?

This article was published on CityMetric on 5 April 2017.


Not all tube stations are born equal.

Some, like Mill Hill East, are reached by soaring viaducts, carrying the tracks a reasonable 60ft above ground level: Dollis Brook Viaduct, which leads to the station, is the highest point on the London Underground. Others, like Westminster, harbour vast cavernous halls with escalators plunging ever further into the depths of London.

Given that it’s called the London Underground, the startling thing is that it’s not actually underground all that much. Only 40 per cent of is actually below ground, and only two lines – the Victoria and Waterloo & City – are entirely below ground.

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Why are there so few tube lines in South London?

This article was published on CityMetric on 31 March 2017.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that London south of the River Thames is a bit of a wasteland.

Sure, it’s come along a lot in the past five years or so, but it still basically divides into three camps: south west London, full of rich City workers who want big houses; south and south east London, full of hipsters so hip that East London is totally over (or they just got priced out too soon, you decide); and deep south London, where literally nothing exists.

Gone are the mythical days when taxis wouldn’t take you across the bridges, but there’s still a certain something about it. If a friend who lives in Walthamstow invites you over, you may think it’s a little way out but it’s not impossible. But if it’s at Gipsy Hill, roughly the same distance but south of the river, you ain’t going.

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Britain’s departure boards should tell us less about train operating companies, and more about service speed

This article was published on CityMetric on 15 March 2017.


From the train station near where I grew up, trains go in one of two directions. In a dichotomy that tells you an awful lot about everything going wrong in the UK, departures from Didcot Parkway, in Oxfordshire, pretty much go towards London or away from London.

On platforms 1 and 3 you can go to thrilling places like Oxford, Bristol, Newport, Cardiff, and (pardon me, I’m getting overexcited) Swansea. On any other platform – but mostly platform 2 – you go to London Paddington. All this is courtesy of Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western). GWR, as it’s colloquially known, is infamous for its punitive policies that make it harder to take bikes on trains – a policy so egregiously awful it was once debated in Parliament.

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Here are some of the world’s most stupid time zones

This article was published on CityMetric on 9 March 2017.


As citizens in the great nation of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the Prime Meridian, and the official designated centre of the world, we Brits can forget the bizarre ridiculousness of time zones.

Time zones.

Why is it that flying west from London to Madrid results in shifting the clocks one time zone eastward – an hour ahead?

And did anyone ever give a thought to the zip wire across the River Guadiana between Spain and Portugal, where your flight across the river is so fast – at 45 miles per hour – that you land in Portugal one hour earlier than you left Spain?

Or, indeed, the one international border where stepping one foot over the mountains means you step three and a half hours back in time?

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