Arch de Triomphe

03/04/2012 22:01 BST | Updated 03/06/2012 10:12 BST


There are a number of celebrated Victorian buildings peppering this fair isle of ours.

Highclere Castle, made famous by Downton Abbey, the Natural History Museum, the gothic splendour of the Palace of Westminster, the civic pride embodied by Manchester's imposing town hall. All of these buildings represent a small island emboldened by its empire, and a society rapidly entering an age of modernity.

They're vast, behemoths of buildings, designed to instil fear and respect into lesser men who might cross their thresholds. They're a testament to a bygone age, and an incredibly important part of Britain's cultural and architectural heritage.

But there's a much humbler pile of bricks an mortar which is equally deserving of our praise, the railway arch.

Have you ever stopped and looked at one? They're the perfect synergy of form and function. Size, in this context, is irrelevant - it's all about the curve.

The most well-known railway arch in the country is 'The Arches', a greasy mechanics run by pantomime villain Phil Mitchell - hardly high praise, but this image, in London at least, is fast fading.

The arch is enjoying something of a renaissance. Far from being a glorified cupboard, it now has more uses than probably any single piece of architecture out there.

From clubs to gyms to art galleries; there's even a gentlemen-only 'health spa' occupying a site in an arch in Waterloo. There's only so far most properties can go in their diversity of uses before they run out of puff, not so the railway arch.

Those grand gothic manors really only have one purpose, and as we're no longer in an age of shooting parties and Backstairs Billies, they rather seem to have outlived their usefulness. Of course they can be turned into chain hotels or butchered into apartments, but to do that is to lose the essence of the building and to undermine its raison d'etre.

The arch, though, it lends itself to anything and everything. It's a blank canvas, on which pretty much anything can be painted. They're timeless, lending themselves absolutely to an injection of the contemporary, which is perhaps the ultimate testament to any design.