Paddington Station

London, England

Paddington Station, London, terminal of the Great Western Railway linking England’s capital with the Atlantic port of Bristol, was designed by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806–1859) with the assistance of architect Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820–1877). Built between 1850 and 1854, it was one of the first stations to utilize the iron-arched roof and the ridge-and-furrow roof glazing also employed in Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace of 1851. It led to further exploitation of the iron arch in stations such as St. Pancras (1863–1865) and to extensive use of the roofing system.

Railroad terminals were a significant nineteenth-century architectural development that added a new building type to the townscape. There were two quite specific types of space required—a head building that housed the pedestrian entrance, ticket sales area, baggage storage, and refreshment and waiting rooms, and an adjacent shed with platforms at which trains and travelers arrived and departed. The building type presented architects with a dilemma since there was no existing morphological or stylistic precedent. Therefore, the designers of the earliest railroad stations merely adopted or adapted conventional building forms, materials, and styles. As the popularity of train travel increased, so did the need for wider station sheds to accommodate more tracks and platforms; because of the limitations of traditional construction technology, structural advances and new materials such as iron and glass offered potential solutions. The relatively new profession of engineers, unrestrained by historicism, took up the challenge and designed sheds that exposed contemporary materials and advances and (most importantly) met their clients’ demands. Sometimes they collaborated with an architect, as Brunel did by inviting Wyatt to design Paddington’s decorative details. But despite innovation and audacity, the architectural form and esthetic of the railroad sheds was not well received, and they were obscured by a masonry head building that looked back to any of a number of past styles.

Brunel, son of French-born engineer Marc Brunel (1769–1849), served his apprenticeship supervising the construction of his father’s Thames Tunnel project (1825–1843). Although work there was in abeyance, he won a commission for the acclaimed Clifton Suspension Bridge near Bristol (1829). In 1833 the promoters of the Great Western Railway appointed him engineer of the bold project to connect London by rail with the west of England. Brunel chose and surveyed the route and prepared plans. Despite outspoken opposition from landowners and rival transport providers, he argued the railroad’s merits in lengthy public hearings and before a parliamentary committee. He was highly praised for his persistence and performance when the bill for the Great Western