People have been using it for over 20 years, and although it opened in 1999, in a way, Bermondsey station on the Jubilee line can be said to be still unfinished. That’s because it’s a low single-storey building in an area with lots of tower blocks, and it’s also supposed to have a tower block on top of it.
Built to a design by Ian Ritchie Architects, although it looks like a square building from above, the tube station elements is L shaped, with a ground floor shop taking up one corner, and the station wrapping around it.
It’s very light inside, with glass ceilings, and substantial concrete bracing that creates a tall box for the escalators and lets light flood deep down to the platforms. The escalator box is also arguably one of the underappreciated architectural gems of the Jubilee line.
But back to the outside of the station.
Tube stations and entire lines were often built with the intention to be used for property development after the railway was completed, but in the 1960s-80s, there seemed to be a collapse in interest in using oversite development to part-fund railway upgrades.
For example, much of the Victoria line excluded anything above their new stations.
Then along came the Jubilee line, and for several new stations, they were engineered to support mid-sized developments above the stations. Not too much though, as bigger foundations meant bigger bills to pay to build them, and as there was no guarantee that anything would be built above the station, they hedged their bets a bit.
So mid-sized it was – and for the Jubilee line station at Bermondsey, it was expected that a 6-storey office block would sit above the front of the station. Later it was thought that this could be increased to 15-storeys thanks to modern advances in building materials.
The office, if ever built would occupy the front third of the floor space of the station building, where the ground floor is currently a shop. The rear of the station wasn’t designed to have anything built above it, as that is where the glass ceiling sits to flood light down into the depths of the station through the open escalator box.
It may seem odd to build a station structurally capable of holding an entire office block (or residential flats) above it, and to then not do anything with it. But the costs still don’t look that promising.
The only Jubilee line extension station with an oversite development is Westminster, and that’s for the Parliament, so there’s no need to generate a profit on that development. Southwark station is finally going ahead, but with a much larger development than originally planned, and only by building across the land to one side and reducing the weight of the building above the station.
However, a report by Kat Hanna and Nicolas Bosetti at the Centre for London in 2017 suggests that the cost of building above a station without additional land to expand the development onto would struggle to be recovered from the sale or letting of the new building.
Obviously, there are wider issues that can be brought into play, such as the social good from additional housing developments, which can unlock government funding to support the development, but if the aim is to make a profit to plough back into the transport network – it looks as if Bermondsey station is going to remain technically an unfinished building for many years to come.