Mastering Complexity: The London Underground

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Complexity surrounds us. Mastering new technology, understanding scientific discoveries, even learning how to play an instrument well. But few things are more fearsome to master than the evil intricacies of the London Underground network, a system of such unending complexity that several of the original Victorian innovators are still looping the Circle Line in their top hat and tails, trying to generate enough centrifugal force to escape.

Tube Map

The system itself was built to master plans. Unfortunately, those master plans resided in the heads, hearts and wallets of a number of individuals, and bore little resemblance to each other. The resulting tangle of tubes, deep lines, tunnels, cuts and escalators circle and transect the city like a spiders web on acid. Some lines are grand: Art Deco wrought iron fixtures and echoing hallways, others squalid, modernist or just plain odd.

There are few straight lines on the Tube: your journey usually…

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