Kings Cross Square public art – a fifth plinth?

Removal of kings cross  Public art is always controversial.  Try and please all of the people all of the time and you end up with the dreadful ‘Kiss’ sculpture in St Pancras the chicken tikka masala of art.  The permanence of public art means you bequeath generations with for instance statues of dead generals.  Kings Cross itself is actually named after a dreadful piece of public art – a widely ridiculed moument to King George IV that was pulled down to some popular acclaim:

'..a very uncomplimentary effigy of majesty; even the very cab-men grew critical; the watermen (aquarii) jeered; and the omnibus drivers ridiculed royalty in so parlous a state, at length the statue was removed in toto, or rather by piecemeal.' Illustrated London News 1845

We have some great bits of public art in Kings Cross such as the splendid typography of Edward Square, the Murals in Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens.  Some hoped that the refurbishment of Kings Cross Square in front of the station would allow for an iconic piece.  I would like something striking and modern – an angel of the north perhaps.  But the people who love the Kiss at St Pancras would want a 100 ft bronze of a girl scratching her bum in a tennis outfit.  No one would be happy.  This is often why corporate public art is awful and inspired the corporate art destruction sequence in Fight Club.

Network Rail’s plans for the new square in front of Kings Cross are drab and unimaginative.  There’s a blame game going on with Camden planners.  Rumour circulates that a proposal for public art was turned down by planners.

So why not do something that is architecturally simple and uncontroversial and can accommodate a variety of tastes.  Why can’t Kings Cross Square have a ‘Fifth Plinth’ a simple stock brick plinth on which over the years changing pieces of public art can be installed.  Like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. The plinth could show art from the destinations that Kings Cross reaches – bring art from Grantham, Hull and Berwick on Tweed into London. It could be a beacon of the North perhaps.  The students from St Martins could have an annual slot.  It could be sponsored, competed etc.

Running costs could be kept down by Network Rail doing the public liability Insurance, CSM and the Guardian running the judging and selection process invovling local people and commuters.  CSM must have the skills for moving and locating art installations. And as each piece of art is temporary the art won’t need planning permission.All for the cost of a modest plinth made of reclaimed stock brick.

It would be a tiny fraction of Network Rails spend on Kings Cross refurbishment.  How about it? Let us know in the comments.

About William Perrin

Active in Kings Cross London and South Oxfordshire, founder of Talk About Local, helping people find a voice online and a trustee of The Indigo Trust , Good Things Foundation and ThreeSixtyGiving as well as Connect8.
This entry was posted in Arts and Entertainment, Kings Cross Station Refurbishment. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Kings Cross Square public art – a fifth plinth?

  1. Andrew says:

    Great idea, and I would hope that students being featured would result in art that continually fuels debate, which results in positive mention of King’s Cross….

    An idea I had some time ago was giant murals down the side of York Way as well….

  2. John Ashwell says:

    Love this idea – anything to bring energy to the space in the form of the creative arts is essential – and to allow this to bring about debate. Without such “life”, this space is barren – think a cold November day, with nothing there but bubblegum littered hard paving, and nothing to draw the eye. I said to my partner who had not seen the design, that it was uninspired, and he said “tell me it isn’t a vast expanse of hard paving with under lit benches, which is all urban landscape designers seem to be able to come up with these days” – and of course – that is exactly what it is – predictable, not visionary. We cannot allow something so key to be such a wasted opportunity in terms of spatial awe and delight to the souls of those passing through it each day!

  3. Ros says:

    Sounds a good idea to me! It would be great to have the area in front of Kings Cross a space to be proud of. Many many people go through it every day.

  4. Diana Shelley says:

    The proposed plan for the square certainly misses a trick on the art front (and the trees, gardens, anything of any interest whatsoever fronts too). It’s crying out for a good, big piece of modern sculpture (even an Anthony Gormley would be better than nowt), and perhaps we could melt down the St Pancras snoggers to make it? The biggest piece of kitsch in the known universe, it really won’t be missed.

    Nearly forty years ago there was a very fine piece of graffiti all the way up the side of the station on York Way (I knew the perp): ‘Strike a body blow to capitalism’, it read in very large block letters. To be fair that was before the London stock brickwork was restored, which in my conservationary old age I’d probably prefer to keep now. But the message has lost none of its relevance in the intervening years.

  5. Andrew says:

    Any ideas how to turn this idea into reality? Happy to help out….

  6. Clare says:

    Definitely some mileage in this. Count me in for pushing for a fifth plinth, a newsstand and a few trees. At least if we can band together with a clear and easy-to-understand (for any unimaginative decision-makers we may encounter) shopping list, that’s a start. I think the newsstand is particularly important, it’s an institution and its world of newspapers available at all hours is completely in keeping with the international hub that King’s Cross-St Pancras should and ought to be. This is supposed to be the beating heart of London’s transport for crying out loud.

    Wonder if locally based designer Thomas Heatherwick was asked to be involved at any point?

    Yes I’m definitely not a fan of the ‘snogging giants’ either, and can I pre-emptively register my objections to any lame carving of random word-association or second rate poetry in to the vast pavement?

  7. Clare says:

    And I might hasten to add that there’s no reason a newsstand can’t be beautiful and treated as a proper architectural brief.

  8. sean says:

    We too went along to look at the model and visuals of the new square / piazza. Our feedback was:

    It’s better than what’s there now.

    The design is not very different from the original Network rail visuals and so does not meet the expectations set in previous press releases.

    The lack of greenery is terrible.

    There is little detail on how the space will be managed. Network Rail and Camden struggle now to keep the space clean, so how can we have confidence the area will not be full of Mc D crap, boozed up Leeds fans and people passed out on the few new benches?

    The issue raised by Will of the under canopy area becoming the smoking spot is very real and from what the team told us, this has not been thought though.
    Given every passenger will exit the station at the front, the potential for this to become a smoking grot spot, worse than the current under canopy area, is very real. Network Rail struggle to enforce the no smoking area now.

    We also asked about Taxi set-down in York Way. Does this stay or go? (Go please!)

    Finally do the crossings that are shown as straight across in York Way and Pancras Rd actually change from current pen style – or is this just more artistic license ?

    When we hear back, we’ll share…


  9. Sarah says:

    Great idea and the perfect opportunity for the new St Martin’s students to show their work too. Let us know how we can help pull this idea together and get it to the right people!

  10. With all the work on King’s Cross as an international gateway since the Mayor’s Hundred Public Spaces Programme, which suggested a worthy terminus to Euston Road as boulevard, and despite doubling the capacity of the interchange, the disconnected vision of this space lowers the calibre of civic design to that of Gaylord Investments and TfL…

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