Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Crossrail starts here

The station designs for what is being called the central section of Crossrail – Paddington to Custom House, essentially – have now been unveiled. It’s good that something positive is now coming to replace the negative (literally) of the vast holes in London’s streetscape that this massive project is causing. So are they any good?

Paddington (Scott Wilson, Weston Williamson; Gillespies urban and landscape designers) is described as “building on a Brunelian legacy”, by reversing the inward-turning nature of the present station to link the new Crossrail areas to the surrounding architecture. Below ground, the high, top-lit escalator and ticket hall with its oval mushroom-headed columns recalls the recent extensions of Paris’s RER and Metro stations.

The epic space of the Royal Docks has clearly given the Custom House design team (Arup; Atkins; Allies & Morrison) a chance to create from scratch a new identity where there is little. A strongly geometrical, open structure with sculpted finishes and a robustly modelled perimeter wall help.

Just to the west, Foster+ Partners’ Canary Wharf station gets a cousin with their scheme (along with Arup, Adamsons Associates and Gillespies again) for the Crossrail station, which again features a glass shell entrance but which this time features a greened roof to the buried station box that is – rather oddly – itself roofed over, albeit translucently.

It seems a little hopeful, too, to describe the entire Canary Wharf complex as “closely integrated with the local community”, whilst similar exhortations are even more obvious in the Whitechapel idea of an elevated concourse “bridging communities”, although its actual design, with timber cladding, plenty of light and a sympathetic connection to the Victorian brickwork of the existing East London Line building is good.

Into the City proper, the designers of Liverpool Street (Mott MacDonald, Wilkinson Eyre and Urban Initiatives) have a rather easier location in which to display corporate confidence amongst the rapidly evolving area around the east end of London Wall. One might quibble with the description of “timeless thinking” informing the results, but at least the first real evidence emerges here of a push to bring daylight as deep into the stations as possible, in a second attempt at what the Jubilee Line extension mostly failed to do, to the great regret of its design head, Roland Paoletti, who once expressed that view to me. Thus intricate engineering and architecture combine at two new entrances, on Liverpool Street and Moorgate.

Farringdon, at the edge of the City again, has perhaps the most potential given its relatively unconstrained site, and here one is pleased to see a genuine link to the area’s history through Scott Wilson, Aedas and Burns & Nice’s descriptions of “different uses of metals and glass” to reflect the local traditions of ironworking and jewellery-making, and “fluctuating light” through the day. Renderings shows delicate mesh screens and neat ‘tree’ columns in a smart, rectilinear air-rights overbuilding.

In the West End, it comes as no surprise that Bond Street, by WSP and John McAslan + Partners, displays evident quality of finish and consideration for its sensitive location. A bronzed freestanding box with metallic fluted columns and an intriguing “technology wall” conveys the feeling of carefully-crafted luxury and precision that is a prerequisite for this area, such as KPF’s recent apartment block nearby.

Finally, Tottenham Court Road. Here, Arup, Atkins and Hawkins Brown have a challenge on their hands, two ticket halls again, one in the tight and pleasantly faded grid of Soho and one in the shadow and at the feet of the heroic piece of pop that is Centre Point. Little detail seems to have appeared, and the thrusting glass wedges forming a new piazza entrance still concern in the way they intrude on views of the tower.

Across all the stations, the C100 consortium (Grimshaws, Atkins, GIA Equation) are providing a uniform set of components for internal finishes, fixtures, wayfinding and lighting, their intentions wittily displayed by an open briefcase containing fragments of each, Joe 90-style.

Watch this space…

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