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 fa├žade (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


Anonymous said...

Nice update, but it would be helpful to have a few criticisms of the negative aspects of the development -- see http://www.kingscrossaccess.com/

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Coleman,
I agree with the 1st 'anonymous'
Can't find you on facebook?
Sabs :)