Friday, 26 February 2010

More on the East London Line – and station architecture

Following up on my previous piece, I spoke with somebody at TfL last week who confirmed that work on the new line is progressing well and is ahead of schedule. I couldn’t get an exact date of the line opening for public service but it sounds very much like June.

The new rail bridge over the Regent’s Canal is lit at night, a nice feature. I wonder when the first graffiti will appear; perhaps the lighting is intended to deter this. Will Banksy christen the new bridge?

Set against my pleasure in seeing the new line open is frustration at the disappointing design of the stations. The project is another PFI/PPP project and sadly the architecture seems to fit with what we have come to expect from that funding and procurement route. Keep it simple, remove any risk, avoid ambition.

The smaller local stations at Hoxton and Haggerston - above - appear functional, but not much else, and make little contribution their surroundings. Most disappointing though is the new station at Shoreditch High Street – below - an enormous slug-like box that is particularly offensive and imposing, as it is raised many metres above the ground. I couldn’t for the life of me see why this monster concrete box has been imposed on the skyline. It has been in place for about a year now and I haven’t grown accustomed to it. However, I noticed a small piece at the bottom of a TfL webpage which explains that what I’m seeing and objecting to is in fact a concrete shell, erected over and around the station. This is to protect the station and allow the line to stay open when major new buildings are constructed here in the years to come. This seems a smart idea, so full credit to TfL for thinking ahead. However, were development not to take place, then we’d be stuck with the slug-box forever. In the current difficult climate for city office developers that may be a realistic fear.

There are in London some really stunning examples of well-designed stations. These are on the Jubilee Line Extension, which is just 10 years old. There are 11 stations, each designed by a different architect, and almost are really successful both below and above ground. The credit for this ambitious approach goes to Roland Paoletti CBE, London Underground’s Chief Architect at the time, who argued for good design, engaged some top class architects, and supported them throughout the years of the project.

I keep hearing rumbles concerning the design of the Crossrail line. The good news is that some of the architects who made such a contribution to the Jubilee Line have been engaged to work on the Crossrail stations. But it seems there may not the same high-level leadership as Roland Paoletti provided.

There is a good article about the Jubilee Line in the London Review of Books here:

There are many photos on Flickr, but the best way to experience the architecture is to ride on the line, getting off at some stations for a look around.

There is also Kenneth Powell’s book The Jubilee Line Extension is published by Laurence King Publishing

Architecture on the Jubilee line – from

Architecture of the stations on the extension can only be described as spectacular. All have vast tracts of space and project architect Roland Paoletti CBE has employed world famous architects at the various stations resulting in a statement of importance not seen on the Underground since Charles Holden's designs of the 1930s. Canary Wharf is arguably the largest, although during construction Westminster was the country's deepest and most complex excavation. At London Bridge the new ticket hall imaginatively uses the brick arches below the Railtrack station.

Major architectural awards followed - the extension recently won the superlative accolade of Millennium Building of the Year by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust. In addition, four stations were specially commended - Westminster, Southwark, Canary Wharf and North Greenwich.

The Railway Industry Innovation Award for 2000 went to the entire Jubilee line extension. The Civic Trust's Urban Design Award was awarded to London Transport and again individual awards went to Stratford and Canary Wharf stations. In 1999 both Stratford and North Greenwich stations were awarded a Royal Institute of British Architects (RBIA) Civic and Community Award.

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