Harbinder Singh Birdi looks at how the new stations will both integrate into and reflect the cities they will soon become part of…
The rail infrastructure sector is currently experiencing dramatic change and architects play a pivotal role in the design of rail infrastructure within the city, especially with the increase in train travel within London and the rest of the UK. As our infrastructure providers require costs to be borne by commercial developments within and around transportation hubs, architects are required to design places with diverse building programmes which are fully integrated into the public realm. Architects excelling in this sector need to be knowledgeable, responsive and innovative to ensure that their projects are able to meet the needs of our cities and communities.
Crossrail is now recognised as being the first major transport project to integrate public realm with station design. Our wider role as infrastructure architects delivering three of the central stations is to knit the complex engineering into the city’s fabric.
At Tottenham Court Road station we are delivering one of the most complicated stations currently being constructed for the Elizabeth Line. We have collaborated with world-renowned artists to create some of the largest permanent art installations found on the transport network, paying homage to the creative communities that would be using the station and work and play in Soho and St Giles.
Councils and Boroughs informing the infrastructure that is right for them
Local councils now realise how crucial infrastructure is to regenerate their towns. A lack of ability to readily travel to and from a place limits growth. In the recently published white paper on housing the government reiterated its support for outer borough densification, which can only be achieved if the infrastructure can support growth, creating places to work, live and socialise.
Working with Network Rail, Croydon Council and multiple developers on adjoining sites at East Croydon Station, Hawkins\Brown proposed a bridge which introduced new gate lines, improved accessibility and reduced station congestion. The bridge also created an essential new public pedestrian link across the tracks, creating much needed routes to the city’s heart for those in the west. This project was about celebrating infrastructure by bringing a joyful landmark to the local area as it undergoes significant transformation. Over a 20-hour period in 2013, a new 100-metre long, 700-tonne bridge structure was push-launched across the six platforms at East Croydon rail station, to accommodate increasing capacity at the UK’s third busiest railway interchange station.
This bridge was designed to be built with minimal disruption to station operations and to easily accommodate the addition of more platforms in the future. It was assembled on a site adjacent to the station and installed in less than a day via a push launch technique over the live railway, without disrupting on-going services to platforms. Subsequent to the launch development has been initiated around adjacent sites that had lain redundant for over 20 years.
Infrastructure to support the need for greater housing, creating new communities that are better connected
Crossrail’s central London stations are the foundation stones for some of the city’s most high-profile real estate. Funding models for all future infrastructure projects such as Crossrail 2 will have to consider how development will, in part, fund the construction of new homes. With all major cities in the UK dealing with an increase in population there is a push to densify development around rail infrastructure nodes. At Tottenham Court Road station we designed both the station and mixed-use over-site development as one structure. In order to construct the building within a constrained site we designed for modern methods of construction, assembling the building as a kit of parts, utilising prefabrication, constructing in a controlled environment off-site and erecting safely using machinery rather than manual labour.
Our requirements for densification in the UK are not yet at the same level as in Asia, in cities such as Hong Kong, where the rail operator MTR is well-versed in integrating housing, retail and workspace within the infrastructure, at times blurring the moment where station begins and ends. This ‘ultra-integrated’ infrastructure model celebrates the interface between the metro system below, the urban realm and the buildings above.
The successful implementation of a transport mode does more than just allow for ease of movement for the users. It creates a civic space for arrival, departure and, arguably most importantly, the opportunity to dwell. Although the ‘ultra-integrated’ model is efficient, it offers very little in terms of open and engaging spaces to the city’s urban fabric.
Crossrail 2, which aims to create new communities in the outer zones of London, will require developers to liaise with TfL and the design teams to develop robust, cost-effective schemes. As central London housing prices become unaffordable to most, the outer boroughs will soon become areas that offer affordable places to live while being connected to world class rail infrastructure. The challenge will be to find funding models that are attractive to both developers and rail operators as well as, we assume, partial funding from the Treasury.
HS2 has the opportunity to revitalise cities
HS2 will have a major impact on the cities that it serves. The key task will be to find ways of integrating some of the largest station structures this country will be constructing into the hearts of our cities and existing communities. Just as St. Pancras and Kings Cross offer high-quality retail and restaurants, making the stations destinations in their own right.
Birmingham New Street – another station that successfully incorporates places to shop and eat – also manages to ensure that the internal public spaces benefit from natural light, creating good quality spaces to meet and dwell. However, New Street, Kings Cross and St. Pancras are major transformations of exiting stations. HS2’s challenge will be not only to show us how modern rail infrastructure will revolutionise the way we travel but more importantly how the new stations will both integrate into and reflect the cities they will soon become part of.
Harbinder Singh Birdi is partner, head of infrastructure and transport at Hawkins\Brown Architects