King’s Cross Station

Katherine Watts

King’s Cross Station

7-9 William Road, London NW1 3ER

London, United Kingdom

EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2013 winner

Great buildings of our past play an important part in our future

Kings Cross Station is one of England's most important historic buildings. Opened by the Great Northern Railway as its London terminus in 1852 it helped to usher in the new age of travel. It was the second terminus to be built in London after Euston which had opened in 1837. However unlike its ostentatious predecessor, Kings Cross is a masterpiece of rational design. Its architect, Lewis cubitt, provided a double barrelled train shed, one side for arrivals and one for departures, fronted by a monumental twin arched, yellow brick facade surmounted by an Italianate turret containing a clock. To this day it remains one of the very best demonstrations of functionalism in architecture.

The mid 20th century saw two significant changes to the station. First, on the night of 11 May 1941 the Western part was severely damaged by aerial bombing. Repairs were perfunctory and left the western elevation of the station scared by metal sheeting in place of yellow stock brickwork.  Second was that continued growth in passenger numbers forced the construction of a new southern concourse in 1973. Always seen as a temporary solution by the Local Planning Authority, it was only granted a limited period planning permission to be reviewed every 5 years. Architecturally, the new concourse was an utterly utilitarian structure which masked Cubitt's magnificent elevation. Alongside under investment and poor standard of repairs, these changes saw station reach the end of the 20th century, 150 years after its construction, shabby, uninviting and ill equipped to meet the renaissance in railway travel which was pushing passenger numbers up.

In 1997 JMP won an international competition to design a scheme for the comprehensive refurbishment and development of the station. The aim was to create a station fit for the 21st century and capable of handling passenger numbers projected to rise from 40million to 60million per year by 2020.

In July 2005 London was awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games a major contribution to securing central government support for the project. Applications for planning permission and listed building consent were made in May 2006 and granted 17 months later in November 2007. Work stared immediately on refurbishment of the Eastern Range and the "new" station opened in the summer of 2012, just in time for the Games. In September 2012, after the Games were complete, work began on the southern Piazza and was completed earlier this year.

The project was split into 5 main packages of work:

The Eastern Range
The Easter Range is approximately 250m long by 12m wide and consists of 3 levels of office accommodation over the original taxi cab road for the station. The cab road has been converted into a new platform "0" significantly increasing capacity within the train shed. The floors above have been completely re-serviced and refurbished to provide office and operational accommodation for the station. This has included restoration of the stone and iron balustrade staircase back to its original polychromatic splendour.

The Train shed
Cubitt's train shed is 250m long, 65m wide and 22m high. Its double barrelled roof has been cleaned, completely re-glazed and fitted with photovoltaic panels which supply 10% of the station's energy requirement. All of the brickwork has been cleaned, repaired and cleared of ad-hoc cables and services. The spectacular southern, twin-arched elevation has been cleaned and re-glazed and a new platform over-bridge installed from the mezzanine level of the new concourse. New traditional timber shop fronts face onto the platforms and all signage is provided through a bespoke integrated system. Finally a new and elegant catenary cable system has been installed to provide high level power for the locomotives.

The New Concourse

The new concourse sits been the station's Western Range and the Great Northern Hotel, also designed by Lewis Cubitt. Importantly, it sits directly above the main ticket hall of Kings Cross underground station. At its widest point the concourse is 140m and at its highest rises to 20m above an enclosed area of 7,500sqm. Its dramatic diagrid shell roof, one of the largest single span structures in Europe, is supported by a central tapered funnel and 16 tree-form structural columns. The covering is formed from 2,000 glass and aluminium panels balanced to provide natural lighting whilst controlling solar gain. Within the concourse, a mezzanine floor provides direct access to all platforms within the train shed via a new bridge. Designed in conjunction with Arup, the new concourse is an engineering ls"tour-de-force' and sets an architectural benchmark for Network Rail.
The Western Range

Restoration of the Western Range has been key to the operational requirements of the station. The elevation has been reinstated to match Cubitt's yellow stock brickwork and within the "bomb gap" a new ventilation shaft has been installed to serve the underground below. Formation of the Southern Gateline, crucial to passenger movement between the new concourse and main train shed, required major intervention in the fabric and a complex engineering solution to support the building's upper floors. The station's Victorian booking hall has been "recovered", (it had been sub-divided and filled with plant and storage), and restored to its original use. For the first time, the main train shed and concourse have been fully connected to the suburban platforms alongside the station's North-West edge. Lastly, inspection of bomb damaged areas revealed a long closed off and forgotten atrium to the station's parcel yard. This has been repaired, with careful structural strengthening, and given a new lease of life as a pub and restaurant, now the largest and most successful on the network.

The Shared Service Yard
Key to the operational efficiency of the station has been the creation of a new underground Service Yard shared with Argent, developer of the former goods yards to the north of the station. This unseen but major piece of civil engineering has transformed the way in which goods and services are delivered to the station. Street level deliveries have been eliminated together with the congestion caused by passengers and service vehicles sharing the same platform space and routes. All servicing is now delivered from the new yard direct to the platforms via a tunnel and new goods lifts.

The Public Space
The new piazza in from of the station is the largest new public space to be created in London since the 19th century. Conceived as a calm surface of high quality natural, materials, it provides a fitting setting for Cubitt's magnificent southern elevation. As with other parts of the project, it has been designed to accommodate the operational requirements of the underground station by integrating entrances, ventilation and fire fighting shaft.

The extraordinary project took 14 years to build but was completed on time and on budget. Throughout that period the station remained fully operational with a not a single day lost to passenger traffic. Similarly, despite extremely complex engineering requirements, the structural integrity and operation of the underground station below was fully protected throughout the works.

The project has completely transformed the passenger experience, expected to rise to some 55 million people per year, and created a station truly fit for the 21st century. Cubitt's gloriously elegant southern elevation has once again been revealed and the new public space signals the importance of King's Cross as a major civic building and a key part of the nations transport infra-structure.

The station project is a key element in the transformational change to this part of London. Completion of the new British Library, on the site of the Midland Railway's Goods depot, signalled the beginnings of regeneration at King's Cross / St Pancras. Transformation of St Pancras Station into London's Euro-Star Terminal opened in November 2007, and subsequent restoration of the spectacular Grand Midland Hotel were hugely public statements of confidence and change in the area. Suddenly this was England's gateway to Europe. Redevelopment of the former King's Cross Goods Yard gained planning permission in 2006 and is creating a whole new quarter of commercial, residential, educational and cultural space. Taking all of these projects together, this is the most important conservation-led regeneration scheme in Europe.

British engineers invented the railway and railways changed the world. This project demonstrated that our forefather's heroic approach to station design is alive and well at King's Cross. It also confirms the conviction held by English Heritage and shared by JMP, that the great buildings of our past have a hugely important part to play in our future.


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