Tuesday, 25 May 2010

King's Cross returning to former glory (Harry Potter will be pleased)

London's skylines and streetscapes are rapidly changing. New skyscrapers, apartments, shops and offices are going up all over the city - and this phenomenal growth persists despite the worst economic crisis experienced in decades.

One of the biggest challenges facing architects and builders of these new schemes is to create places that blend with London's unique history.

Last week I secured a bird's eye view of a grand example where innovation and tradition excitingly co-exist. Negotiating a steep staircase inside the old clock tower and padding cautiously along precarious rooftop walkways, I enjoyed an informative and close-up look at the £500 million rejuvenation of King's Cross railway station.

Clad in my high-viz tangerine space suit with safety helmet, gloves and glasses, I walked along the full length of the King's Cross' roof that is being extensively renovated without affecting trains and passengers way below. 

Renovators found the roof in a bad way. Maintenance 1960s-style involved little more than three sheets of blue plastic battened through the Welsh slates.

The renovated canopy will be 250 metres long, spanning over 30m. It's metal ribs are being stripped, repaired and repainted. Photo-voltaic cells will be installed. Other sections will be re-covered with fresh Welsh slate and new glazing that will let in 40% more light.
Below, each platform will be refurbished and a new footbridge installed. The Handyside Bridge, better known as the ‘Harry Potter Bridge’ was removed. It's available for anyone who wants to give it a new home! 
King's Cross station's new focal point will be a vast new 21st Century semi-domed, split-level concourse, rapidly being built on the western flank between the station's Grade 1 listed office ranges and the Grade 2 listed Great Northern Hotel - a real marriage of old and new. My photo (above) shows the 'floral' centrepiece at its current stage; Network Rail's image shows it complete as viewed from the concourse's mezzanine level (below).

A new public piazza  - as big as Leicester Square - will grace the station's frontage. Architects Stanton Williams are working with Network Rail on its design.

Lewis Cubitt designed King's Cross station which was built in 1852 for the Great Northern Railway. It's scandalous that planning consent was granted in the 1970s for the current low-slung, single-storey, green extension that blots out Cubitt's glorious station façade (see my above photo and Network Rail's aerial view below). It was only meant to stand for 25 years.

The Great Northern Hotel (below, behind concourse mezzanine frame) - where I once enjoyed a Full English Breakfast in the hotel's fading days - will be refurbished in a separate scheme.

Structural work masks the huge amount of redevelopment beneath King’s Cross where an ‘underground spaghetti’ of tunnels and ticket halls, London's water Ring Main, the Fleet sewer, gas pipes and electrical cables sit cheek by jowl.

Only one ticket hall existed on 18 November 1987 when the King’s Cross fire killed 31 people. The Western Ticket Hall opened at the front of St Pancras two and a half years ago.

The latest and largest of the three ticket halls – the Northern Ticket Hall – provides new connections to the Northern, Victoria and Piccadilly lines via a new east-west underground walkway that was bored just eight metres beneath the tracks in the the bay platforms above. 

The 'Bomb Gap' - a big chunk of the station's western offices flattened by a Luftwaffe bomb during World War II - will be 'plugged' by the redevelopment project in keeping with the building's Victorian style.

Ian Fry, Network Rail’s King’s Cross programme director, confidently said the majority of the redevelopment’s seven projects, including the new Western Concourse, will be completed by 2012 but confirmed the new £6m public square at the front of the station won't be finished until 2013. 

Comparing King’s Cross station’s redevelopment to that of William Barlow's iconic train shed at neighbouring St Pancras International, Fry (pictured) said: “We’ve got a hard act to follow but I believe the new iconic 21st architecture being built on King's Cross' western concourse will be even better.”

An estimated 50 million passengers each year are expected to use a fully revamped King's Cross  – 10m up on the current level; and, of course, Platform 9 & 3/4 - Harry Potter's magical portal - remains for eternity.

Photos taken by my own hand unless stated.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Hammond eggs on Platform 0 at King's Cross

My first personal brush with the 'new politics' of the 'Clameron' Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took place on Platform 0 at King's Cross station (Thursday, 20 May). 

Cameron's new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond strode through a booted and suited cluster of railway industry bods just as we'd started sipping juice and nibbling the canapés. 

Hammond arrived in true Cabinet minister style to ceremonially open the new platform but the media scrum side-tracked him into fielding inconvenient questions about the new coalition government's commitment to high speed rail and to Crossrail. 

Hammond said meetings about meetings on both projects would be held with the key players, including with our beloved London mayor, 'Bozza' Johnson.

During this gentle jostling, Elaine Holt, chairman of East Coast, the government's only directly controlled rail operator, man-marked Hammond. Finally, a modicum of decorum fell on proceedings allowing the Transport Secretary to cut a ceremonial ribbon at the new Platform 0's country end. 

The platform, built on a former taxi rank, will allow Network Rail to refurbish King's Cross station's existing platforms on a rolling basis without interrupting train services run up and down the East Coast main line by East Coast, First Capital Connect, Hull Trains and Grand Central.

Hammond reckons King's Cross' refurbishment promises a passenger environment harking back to the station’s Victorian glory days. “King’s Cross is one of our key railway hubs and it’s vital it leaves a good impression on the people who pass through it – including those anticipated during the 2012 Olympics,” said Hammond.

After he scissored the blue ribbon (no Lib Dem yellow included), Hammond and Holt watched East Coast power car 91116 ceremonially haul a rake of coaches away from the new platform. 

First Capital Connect folk at the launch were apparently a tad miffed it wasn't one of their trains hauling that honour. FCC's only consolation was that one of its coaches - crudely crafted from icing sugar - had made the cut on a Network Rail fruit cake baked especially for the opening. 

Assorted rail journalists watched as Hammond took the knife to Network Rail's cake. Several believe Network Rail's dire debt interest predicament justifies the 'Clameron' regime taking an immediate reforming axe to the rail infrastructure owner. 

Some hope Hammond's cake slicing represents a symbolic portent of Network Rail's fate at the hands of Britain's 'new politics'.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Designed, revealed and delivered

Take this piece.

Add this bit.

Join them with this one.

Add this base.

Place this on top.

Put them together. This is the end result.

The challenge for the architects of London's new Olympic Stadium was to design an international area seating 80,000 people that could be converted into a regional venue for 25,000 people after the 2012 Games.

The Olympic Stadium, now rapidly being built at Stratford in east London, is light, airy and flexible unlike previous Olympic stadia built around the world that are heavy, concrete and permanent.

The weight of the roof is supported by the external triangular frame rather than by the stadium bowl. The lightweight roof can be raised and removed relatively easily when the time comes to reduce the stadium's capacity. 

Unlike other stadia, cafes and bars will sit outside the stadium. This means the London 2012 stadium is freed of any obligation to build storage and delivery areas, extraction fans and fire walls. This also cuts down on the stadium's need for heat, light, power and water.

The design is innovative and flexible. The only doubt is who will use the stadium once the Olympic athletes and cheering crowds have long gone.

Images courtesy of Olympic Delivery Authority.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010.

Mammoth optimism over London's new giant mall

Does London need another mammoth shopping centre? Developers Westfield certainly think so, despite the severe economic downturn.

The Australian firm claims a plethora of 'household' high street retail giants will open large outlets at its Stratford City development currently being built next to the Olympic Park in east London. 

River Island, Boots, Next and Primark have agreed to join Westfield Stratford City's 'anchor' tenants, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Waitrose. The new development is due to open in autumn 2011.

Westfield’s £1.45 billion transformation of 136 acres of Stratford's former railway lands includes a three-storey mall housing over 300 retailers, 50 bars and restaurants and a 12-screen cinema.

Westfield claims its will be Europe’s largest shopping mall - bigger than Westfield's current massive shopping centre at Shepherds Bush/White City in west London. The hope is the east London mall will generate 30,000 jobs, provide 5,000 homes for 11,000 people and offer 2,000 hotel rooms. 

The new Westfield at Stratford City will connect with Stratford Regional station and Stratford’s existing town centre via a £25 million Town Centre Link Bridge. 

Photo, courtesy of Westfield, shows mall in centre with Link Bridge (left) and Stratford International Station, served by high speed and Docklands Light Railway trains (right); Aquatic Centre and Olympic Stadium and rest of London (top).

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Crossrail creates its first big hole

If Crossrail - London's long-awaited east-west rail link - does fall foul of the new coalition government's there'll not only be a financial hole to plug but literally a massive hole in the Docklands (see photos).

Pumps have already drained nearly 100 million litres - the equivalent of 40 Olympic swimming pools - from the North Dock, the construction site of Crossrail's ambitious Canary Wharf station. 

Fish and other aquatic life have already been removed. A dry bed was left inside the coffer dam after the final one metre of water was pumped out. This is where the station 'box' is due to be constructed over the next few years. 

But if the coalition's consensus on Crossrail crumbles, Canary Wharf will be left with a huge useless hole.

The waters in the North Dock had lapped gently ever since the West India Docks, the first enclosed system of docks in the world, were completed and opened in 1802. 

The docks were built under the auspices of the West India Dock Company, whose directors and government supporters were keen to protect their precious cargoes of sugar, rum and molasses. These commodities were produced by captive African slaves toiling on plantations throughout the West Indies.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Starchitect Wars intensify over London Bridge hospital

The race is hotting up between leading architects to get the nod to design and build a new £90 million cancer treatment for London's famous Guy's Hospital.

Amongst those battling on Guy's & St Thomas's NHS Foundation Trust's final shortlist are: 
Lord Rogers (Lloyd's Building, Terminal 5, Pompidou Centre)
Michael Hopkins (Portcullis House, Wellcome Trust HQ, Westminster underground station)
Nick Grimshaw (Waterloo International station, Eden Project)
Ken Shuttleworth (designer 30 St Mary Axe or the 'Gherkin')
Allies & Morrison, (masterplanners King's Cross redevelopment, Arsenal Highbury stadium).

The successful architect, contractor and engineering combination will begin work on the 19,000 square metre centre at the hospital's London Bridge site after the Trust announces the winner later this summer.

Photo courtesy of Guy's & St Thomas's National Health Service Foundation Trust.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

Friday, 14 May 2010

The FA Cup Final 2010 Chelsea v Portsmouth at Wembley Stadium, London

A crowd of up to 90,000 will watch Chelsea and Portsmouth contest the FA Cup Final of 2010 at Wembley Stadium in London this Saturday (15 May, kick-off 3pm). The Football Association Challenge Cup, established in 1872, is the oldest football competition in the world.

Chelsea Football Club, based in West London, was founded on 10 March, 1905 at The Rising Sun public house on Fulham Road, opposite the club's current Stamford Bridge stadium. The club's original crest showed an image of a Chelsea Pensioner, the name given to former British Army soldiers living out their retirement at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. 'Modernisation' removed this image from the crest in the 1950s and replaced it with the current lion.

Football had been very popular amongst sailors and dockers in the south-coast city of Portsmouth since the 1850s. Portsmouth FC was founded on 5 April, 1898 in the back garden of 12 High Street, Old Portsmouth by John Brickwood, owner of the local brewery. The club has played at its Fratton Park ground ever since its foundation. The origins of the club crest go back to 1191 when King Richard I rewarded the city's people for their part in capturing Cyprus. 

Chelsea have won the FA Cup five times; in 1970, 1997, 2000, 2007 and 2009, and have been runners-up on four occasions - 1915, 1967, 1994 and 2002. Chelsea are the current holders of the trophy after beating Everton 2-1 in the 2009 final.

Portsmouth first won the FA Cup (right) in 1939. Portsmouth fans often boast their club held the trophy longer than any other. Of course, this was due to the suspension of the FA Cup tournament between 1940-45 during World War II.

Portsmouth waited until 2008 for the club's next FA Cup Final victory when its strong team that season beat Cardiff City 1-0 at Wembley. Portsmouth were also FA Cup runners-up in 1929 and 1934. 

Portsmouth's 2-0 win over north London club Tottenham Hotspur in their semi-final on 11 April ended hopes for a sixth final in the FA Cup's history to be contested by two London teams.

Photos (top): Chelsea and Portsmouth flags on the south side of England's national stadium at Wembley, north London. 
(middle): Images in players' tunnel of Chelsea coach and players outside the 'home' (England's) dressing room; images of Portsmouth coach and players outside the 'away' (visiting country's) dressing room.

To book a tour of Wembley Stadium call 0844 800 2755 
or visit www.wembleystadium.com/tours

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Newest London railway runs through world's oldest tunnel

“We’re now standing above the oldest tunnel in the oldest metro system in the world,” says Robert Hulse, director of the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe. “Do you hear the train now travelling under our feet?”


Hulse and a group of Californian tourists (see above photos) were standing on a false ceiling laid inside the vast Rotherhithe entrance shaft of engineer Marc Brunel’s Thames Tunnel. Built between 1823-1843, the tunnel runs 4.3m (14ft) beneath the river bed between Rotherhithe on the south bank and Wapping on the north.

The train rumbling beneath was a Class 378, one of an impressive new fleet of 20 undergoing testing before the newly extended East London Line Phase 1 opens for full public service on May 23. Transport for London begins running a 12-train per hour service from that day between Dalston Junction in Hackney and three south London terminals - New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon. The new railway runs north-south through east and south-east London, improving access to London’s rail and tube network for residents of Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon. 

The ELL boasts faster, more direct services and cheaper fares. Thousands of people in residential neighbourhoods such as Brockley, Forest Hill, Sydenham and Croydon will be within 45 minutes of their City workplaces. TfL describe Shoreditch High Street station as a ‘new London terminus’ as it sits just a few minutes walk from Bank, Liverpool Street, Bishopsgate, Spitalfields and Brick Lane. Trains pass through the 'station’, but you can see what TfL mean with its 'terminus' accolade.

The ELL offers an interchange with the Jubilee Line at Canada Water, allowing commuters from south-east London to reach Canary Wharf, the Docklands, Stratford, Stratford City and the Olympic Park. From January 2011, the ELL will run north to Highbury & Islington where passengers can connect to the Victoria Line, North London Line and other mainline services heading north of Finsbury Park. 

East London Line Phase II, given the green light by Mayor Boris Johnson last year, will provide an extension from Surrey Quays over the South London Line to Clapham Junction via Peckham Rye and Wandsworth Road. This section is planned to open in 2012 before the Olympics running four trains per hour – and it's this section that will give London Overground’s map an orbital look. 

The East London Line is new in many respects – new trains, stations, depots and tracks, new passenger markets and the first line to exclusively use GSM-R radio communication between signallers and drivers. The ELL is also the first time that TfL, as an infrastructure owner, has presided over the construction, management and maintenance of a newly built railway. 

Hence, it’s poignant the ELL connects Wapping and Rotherhithe under the Thames by using Brunel’s 366m (400 yards) Thames Tunnel, believed to be the world’s first ever tunnel built beneath an expanse of water. Sadly, neither Marc Brunel nor his son, Isambard Kingdom, lived to see the day in December 1869 when their tunnel became one of the first to be used for a railway when the original East London Railway opened for public traffic.

Some things aren't new. London's beloved mayor, the Conservative Boris Johnson, and his Labour predecessor Ken Livingstone, arranged separate photo-shoots in April and May where they each claimed credit for the £1 billion project that includes Phase II and the Thames Tunnel's renovation. In fact, a lot of credit - literally - belongs to the European Investment Bank that underpinned the once struggling project with a £450m loan in 2005. But let's give Boris and Ken their due - they both backed the ELL to the hilt. 

However, if any individual deserves credit for driving the ELL forward, my vote goes to Ian Brown, TfL's experienced and enthusiastic London Rail director.Brown (see above photo) and his team confidently predict 33 million journeys will be made on the ELL in 2011 at the rate of 100,000 per day, rising to 120,000 per day and 40m annually by 2016.  

Whatever happens, I think Brunel would've been proud that Brown and his TfL colleagues have put the Thames Tunnel (illustrated below) to such good use for the benefit of Londoners.

Click on images to enlarge.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Bozza puts Gordon, Dave, Nick and Ken in the shade

Gordon, devoid of credibility and popularity, crept back to Downing Street after the election and squatted inside Number 10. His arch rivals David and Nick busied themselves in their secret 'coalition-building' meeting around the corner at Admiralty Arch. 

Meanwhile, back at his City Hall ranch, our beloved mayor Boris took advantage of the power vacuum and the media's distracted attention. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Tory leader were watching Bozza as he slipped out an announcement that Transport for London was going to buy Tube Lines, the ailing Private Public Partnership (PPP) set up by Gordon to upgrade London's creaking and overcrowded Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines. 

Boris promises Londoners that TfL 'will complete the delayed Jubilee Line upgrade quickly, ending the horrendous inconvenience of weekend line closures. Boris promises that upgrading of the Northern - infamously tagged the 'misery line' - will also be completed without the vast amount of weekend line shutdowns that Tube Lines, a consortium of Ferrovial and Bechtel, had requested. Boris promises that new, faster and more frequent trains will arrive sooner 'in-house' with TfL rather than later and late with Tube Lines.

In this sense, it's BoZo and not his rival David who has removed the PPP, one of the most unpopular legacies of Gordon's reign. Ken, Boris' predecessor as mayor, had tried to KO Gordon's PPP in the courts but failed. BoJo is now bagging the political house points.

Boris, possibly rightly, thinks this move will raise his own popularity; but the bigger question remains - how can TfL afford the £310 million price tag for Tube Lines' shares, owned by Ferrovial and Bechtel? Can TfL find the money through efficiencies and savings achieved during the upgrades themselves? 

Might Boris and TfL at some point have to squeeze the money from other parts of TfL's budget? It's a budget already being squeezed. Boris and TfL's board are already implementing a business plan designed to save more than £5 billion up to 2017/18. 

True, Boris' decision to buy Tube Lines has put Gordon, Dave, Nick and Ken in the shade. But will Boris end up robbing Peter to pay for Paul?

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

Photo: London Underground's Westminster station (courtesy TfL 2005)