A new public square at King’s Cross

In June 2008, with much fanfare, Network Rail launched an international design competition with the aim of seeking a "world class exemplar design" for "one of London's most high profile public realm projects"; indeed, "the most significant piece of place making for many years". We've been waiting with bated breath to see the design. True we were always going to be harsh critics, particularly because we've been kept out of the loop throughout the process and many of us are likely to be kept out of the decision making process that will approve Network Rail's future planning application. Despite my rather low expectation when I went to see the new design being shown at the station today, I did think I'd see something new, innovative, exciting maybe even challenging.

I saw a huge pavement, an entrance to the tube, two ventilation shafts and a few benches. Oh, and four trees.

Something must have gone badly wrong here. During the design process the architect must have hit so many barriers to creating anything imaginative that they have had to settle with tearing down the plastic bit in front of the station and doing a bit of paving.

Construction projects are horribly difficult, with the best will in the world much can go wrong. But if there are insurmoutable design barriers, why keep that so very quiet for all this time? And why launch the design this week as if it's something to be proud of? It clearly falls far short of Network Rail's original expectations. It looks exactly like the simple graphic that's been on the hoardings for months, not the result of an international design competition.

What next? Unfortunately, Islington residents and businesses won't be fully included in the planning process as the station falls just inside the Camden border. Luckily, Camden residents and businesses can have a huge influence however. We urge everyone to respond to the public consultation about the square and press for it to be at least a bit better than the plain big pavement it looks like it might turn out to be.

One of the trustees at a local charity has been asking for some time that the new public square become a peace garden, green and with some suitable water feature. Please, please Network Rail, have a heart and think again.


Image from the Network Rail leaflet "A New Space for London"

The exhibition showing the new square continues at King's Cross Station until Tuesday 26 July 2011, responses to the Network Rail consultation can be made online.

Statutory consultation will take place once Network Rail submits a detailed planning application.

If you hear any news about the new Square please let us know, we'll keep you as up to date as we can.



About Sophie Talbot

Sophie runs a small business designing websites for small businesses and community groups. http://www.cookiewp.com She also manages King's Cross Community Projects http://www.kccp.org.uk
This entry was posted in Kings Cross N1C, railwayslands, Kings Cross Station Refurbishment. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A new public square at King’s Cross

  1. Andrew says:

    Very disappointed.

    My hopes were raised by the hype when the competition started….”one of the great public places in London”, “world-class exemplar design”, “one of London’s most high-profile public realm projects – as significant to its setting as Trafalgar Square”, “It must create a distinct sense of public space and leave a legacy of world-class design”.

    It has simply been repaved, and completely dominated by ventilation shafts.

    Very disappointed.

  2. william perrin says:

    Oh dear – the round building looks like it was inspired by a Scotch Pie. In the great tradition of London’s integrated transport there is no way of getting from the train to the bus without getting wet. And there’s some paving – they should have put some tumbleweed in or some blowing shopping bags.

    OK so it is a very constrained site, but this is as dull as ditchwater.

    In the background is the problem with Cubitt’s original station design – the short distance from the end of the train to the end of the building. Cubitt originally only had two platforms – where platform 0 is now and on the other side (8?) which were very deep and served to accommodate arriving and departing passengers and freight/parcels in a slightly chaotic way, much like long distance train platforms in India today. So Cubitt didn’t think about thousands of people exiting via the platform end. If it’s raining they all rush out and stop under the glass eyelid/shelter to get their umbrellas out etc. The shelter will be full of smokers too.

    At Euston, although it is very messy and inelegant they show that you an use a station forecourt for trading and doing stuff. Some airstream caravans with snacks maybe? Where has the newstand gone?

    More importantly when does the planning application go in?

  3. It is a hugely disappointing scheme. Personally I feel, rather like Will, that it should at least be functional about sheltered waiting for the buses, keeping the newsstand.

    At a quite different level, this place surely can’t be conceived or planned as a “square” by the owner of just one side. Only Camden can deal with both sides of it, including the issue of whether to remove the single strey front-extensions to the houses on the south side… NR’s scheme and video don’t even include the south-side buildings.

  4. Paul Joseph Winter says:

    SO dissapointing. Neo 60s in their thinking. Why don’t they just lift the “canopy” (or corrugated shed as it actually is) off and voila! There you have the re-designed square.
    This square should complement the surrounding buildings and give ease from the bland, busy Euston road. It does neither.

    The peace garden idea is great and although not entirely practical considering the volume of passengers passing through the station, more planting and a water feature/(well designed) monument of some sort would be wonderful. At “50% bigger than leicester square” (and 90% emptier) there is more than enough room to incorporate this into the design.

    At this stage i’ve only been able to comment to Network Rail on the designs (the link above is still open and taking submissions) but how about some form of organised appeal to Network Rail/The Councils or Malcolm Reading (http://www.malcolmreading.co.uk/) before the plans are even submitted? Any later and the project and re-designs get further bogged down by Red Tape.

    Londoners are currently being afflicted with more bland glass/steel/granite structures than we can deal with or are consulted on. In an area notorious for it’s bad planning, can’t the past be learnt from and we fight this? After all, without outcry, there would be no St. Pancras today..

  5. Simon says:

    There are two kiosks for newspapers or coffee, incoroporated into both the vent shafts. I would guess the problem with trees and water features is the fact the LU South ticket hall is directly underneath the square. Can’t see LU being happy about roots getting into their ceilings or a water feature flooding it!

    The overall design is a bit understated, but for me revealing of the Southern facade of the station will be far more impressive than any piece of artwork or tree.

  6. Ed Griffin says:

    You’re right this new “square” isn’t that impressive looking, it’s just the pavement front of the station. But Granary Square which they are building north of kings cross in the new development should indeed be quite impressive and it’s that one that maybe as significant as Trafalgar Square.

  7. Andrew says:

    An interesting fact I found on a recent tour of the site was that Granary Square is privately owned (as are many of the streets going in) whilst the square outside the station is public. I have a suspicion that the investments in Granary Square are driven from the pursuit of higher rents by making the area more desirable, and the same factors are not driving the design of the square outside the station.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s