Crossrail: Delivering better public spaces

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Moorgate © John Robertson Architects

Crossrail will have a transformational regeneration effect on London’s public realm even in places the new rail line does not touch as other areas are forced to ‘up their game’ to keep pace.

That was one of the key points made this morning at the NLA’s breakfast talk ‘Crossrail – delivering better public spaces’, which included presentations from architects involved in designing areas around stations both in inner and outer London.

The observation came from GVA associate Martyn Saunders, presenting some of the findings from a follow-up report to the firm’s original investigation into the uplift Crossrail areas might expect when the line is open in 2018.

Saunders said that Crossrail is much more than ‘an expensive train set for London’ and is already having an effect on the quantum and type of developments coming through along the line. As it becomes more visible, people will ‘start believing in it more.’ But as areas like Whitechapel will be ‘brought back into central London in a much more real way’ through Crossrail helping it to become an attractive place and Hayes and Harlington has become ‘a whole new economic story’, it will also influence places it won’t touch directly. Saunders said a good example of this is the Golden Mile near Hounslow, which has been forced to ‘sit up’, and ‘raise its game’ because of the better transport connections available elsewhere.

Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme OBE said that the line is now 55% complete, with 80% of the tunneling finished, and is on time and on budget, ready to open in 2018. Although it has a ‘huge second half to go’ it was a ‘huge one-off opportunity for London’, he said, featuring exciting public realm schemes such as that around Tottenham Court Road by Gillespies. Wolstenholme added that there would be lots of opportunities to transfer the learning on what does and doesn’t work to other projects including Crossrail 2 and HS2.

‘This isn’t a pipe dream’, he said. ‘But it’s not limited to central stations – we’re equally excited about working with local communities in outlying districts.’

Andrew Tindsley, Director of Urbanism, BDP is one who is working on such projects, at public realm schemes around stations at Maryland, Forest Gate, Manor Park and Ilford. ‘Just because these are tiny stations, it doesn’t mean that the challenge is anything less’, he said, adding that funding projects will be difficult, so would be funneled into making small but significant changes. These include measures to improve wayfinding, the creation of new entrances and plazas, the use of better materials, new paving, and surfaces, improving retail forecourts, forging better connections to local shopping centres, as in Ilford, and creating new green areas and markets. ‘We’re trying to use the public realm as a device for new development’, he said.

In the centre, John Robertson of John Robertson Architects detailed his practice’s work at Moorgate and Farringdon, the former involving a huge opportunity for public space in the Moorfields area becoming like a public plaza, and a 88,000 sq ft building of stepped pavilions in green, red, and light green subtle faience. The JRA Farringdon work is based on the extra footfall the area will receive – some 250,000 people will pass through the interchange every day, 62,000 at the morning peak – through a new integrated ticket hall onto Cowcross Street. ‘Our work is about relating to the context of the site’ said Robertson. ‘We were keen to do an urban infill building and create urban repair’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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Crossrail: Delivering better public spaces


This NLA breakfast talk accompanies the Crossrail exhibition ‘Places and Spaces’ at The Building Centre, on display from 22 July until 15 August, which will show the proposed improved urban realm and development designs for each station along the Crossrail route.