In just under two weeks time, commuters arriving at King’s Cross station will be the first to leave the front of the building and walk not onto a building site, but a large open plaza.
The demolition of the ugly green shed that despoiled the front of the station started last September, and a year later, the repaving of the area and cleaning up of the two huge ventilation shafts is nearly complete.
In fact, people coming out of the station into a vast open space will be the first time that has ever been possible, as the land in front of the station has always been covered with shops and sheds of some sort or other — and the 1970s Green Shed was itself just a replacement of a previous cluttered mess.
As the station refurbishment is nearly finished, there was a chance to go up the famous clock tower and have a look down from above.
First, a couple of old/then/now/soon photos of the site. Curiously, it doesn’t really look significantly different from this perspective, as the real shock is when you get much closer to the building.
Now that the shed that sat next to the frontage has been removed, people can finally see the huge brick and glass wall fronting the station building that originally housed just two platforms, and now has 9 of them.
There have apparently been some comments made about the glass canopy and the wish that it wasn’t there, but if you come out of a station platform directly into the rain, people will need a few meters of brolly erection space.
Glass canopy aside, this is a view that has only been visible in the first decade after the station opened — it was soon to be covered over, and remained so until a few months ago.
In the center of the frontage though sits the famous clock tower, and the best way to the roof, is via the staircase hidden within.
Although don’t use the door to nowhere half-way up.
The clock itself, once a Victorian mechanical affair has since been replaced with a tiny electric box, although the original wooden beams and cogs and bars are still transmitting time to the three clock faces.
While the fully cleaned up roof looks quite amazing from below, and was an astonishing sight when first uncovered from the massive “duvet” that had shrouded it for a couple of years — possibly a better view is from above.
The structure is original, although the glass is all fresh replacements for the tinted yellow stained glass that used to be here. There are also solar cells along the top of both glasshouses which can generate about 10% of the station building’s electricity needs (excluding trains).
A couple of flag poles will adorn either side of the station, and one was still being erected as we arrived.
Far down below, the refurbishment of the plaza continues. It took a year to clear the shed, as in part there were services under the pavement to clear and shift, and the tube station below meant restrictions on how deep some structures could go.
For example, just small decorative trees in pots so that their roots don’t end up grazing the heads of tube passengers below.
Three tall poles with lighting on them have now been erected and the two ventilation shafts are being re-clad. A new ventilation shaft for the tube tunnels was also installed in an old gap left over from WW2 inside the new concourse, so the tube network has gained a bit more heat extraction capacity from the works.
The works will be finish — in theory — in time for the whole area to have its hoardings removed overnight on the 25th Sept, in time for the plaza to open to the public on Thursday morning.
There will then be a big Victorian celebration on the Square over that weekend, with more activities behind the station, and a “train ride” linking the two.
This isn’t just a celebration of restoring a building for the sake of restoring it though. The St Pancras/King’s Cross complex collectively have a passenger traffic level roughly double that of Heathrow Airport. No one should leave such a major transport hub in such a dilapidated state again, and the works carried out here are starting to show the real commercial benefits of good quality station design.
They are finding that people are spending more time in the stations, not due to train delays, but because the venues are actually pleasant spaces. No one would have wanted to spend an hour in the Ugly Green Shed, but they are happy to do so in the new platform waiting areas.
The redevelopment of the station has also been a major catalyst in encouraging businesses to take up office space behind the station. That is already leading to more high paying business users on the railways, and it is these sorts of things that justify, and ultimately pay for the £500 million upgrade cost of the station.
A couple of silly photos to finish with.
This is an under construction pavement drain which will have the metal slats installed at the top — but doesn’t the side wall of the drain look remarkably like a row of brick arches for a railway viaduct.
Also, although they will be totally hidden, the tiles running around this tube station entrance still carry the famous roundel. Although I hope they turn the two on the corner the right way round before covering them up in pavement slabs.
A few more photos over here.