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.