Lifschutz Davidson Sandiland's 0.5ha redevelopment as part of McAslan + Partner's new Bond Street Station is the exciting bit in this final link of the Elizabeth Line – and an enticer for more change
The press visit to the new Elizabeth Line Bond Street Station organised by Transport for London was remarkable. Twenty or so people, many of them journalists, were gathered in the Davies Street entrance the day after it opened on 24 October and there we were, expected to find out what we wanted to know individually – no introduction, not even to the professionals in attendance. At one point I overheard a curator of TfL’s Art of the Underground programme ask a pair of writers if they had any questions about the art. We had only just been led through the barriers – we’d hardly seen any yet.
It was an extraordinary journalistic affair for a project that was born in the 1990s, has involved so many different parties (including at least four different architecture practices) and has been under construction since 2012. When I asked when the introductory briefing would be, the TfL PR person introduced one of the professionals who had worked on it who asked what I wanted to know. ‘Everything,’ I replied, ‘from the beginning – why this site was selected, what was here before, how the architects were selected, the concept…’ – the usual yada for an architecture journalist. The best answer was to the second question: ‘A building’.
Bond Street’s Elizabeth Line station may have been going on a long time but the fact that the PR team had expected everyone to know most of what they needed before they arrived was maddening. The event was not just informal to the point of absurdity (even though big architecture names among the project’s professionals turned up, including Paul Sandilands), it was all the wrong way around too.
One of many anonymous narrow and slightly dingy at the top end side roads that come off Oxford Street, Davies Street slithers beside the well-known froufrou shopping avenue of South Moulton Street, almost opposite Selfridges department store. On the corner is West One Shopping Centre, completed in the 1970s with its sheet metal grey facade of tessellating bays wrapped round the Underground station inside. The new Elizabeth Line station entrance sits 100m down Davies Street beyond the back of the tired-looking West One.
That West One was granted permission to undergo redevelopment by AHMM in July this year should improve it, yet the positioning of the Elizabeth Line entrance at Bond Street is odd. It is disconnected, alone on an unknown street, well behind the main Tube, and of course with its own branding, designed to make passengers realise it is different from the Tube network – as if that will matter in several years’ time. The entrance has the feel of a back door; like the Argyll Street exits at Oxford Circus, but more so since the over-station building above – a six-storey speculative office designed by PLP – is still under construction.
Where the press tour should have begun is 300m away as the crow flies above the other end of the underground platform – outside the Elizabeth Line’s entrance on Hanover Square. The square was half closed off for the line's construction for the best part of a decade and this is where the Elizabeth Line is granted its proper authority. The opening to the network is much the same as that on Davies Street, essentially a big rectangular hole, this time in Portland Stone rather than red sandstone. However, it sits just off-centre on the side of the square that is now substantially pedestrianised, and forms an inviting and amenable new public space. Here the Elizabeth Line is more prominent, accessible and easily found, all essential characteristics for an underground station entrance.
At this end too, the station forms part of a 0.5ha redevelopment area, carried out by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands in collaboration with Great Portland Estates and WSG. This was in part necessitated by the construction of Crossrail itself, which is deeper here than anywhere else on the line. The north-west block of the square backing all the way to New Bond Street has essentially been demolished, a total of 15 individual buildings that included several 1960s offices and the 19th century extension of the grade II* 20 Hanover Square – one of the square’s few remaining Georgian townhouses. Even the attractive 19th century shopfronts on New Bond Street only kept their facades. In between these, 15 buildings have been remodelled into four. The refurbished listed house is now a ground floor and basement restaurant with a private fashion design university on the upper floors. 18 Hanover Square is a 11,854m2 speculative office with 572m2 retail area that wraps above and around the Elizabeth Line entrance, now partly occupied by mining and commodities trading company Glencore. Then another office stretches much of the length of the New Bond Street elevation and carefully inserts the floor datum to bridge seven different existing facades as well as a new infill section. Meanwhile, there is a six-unit apartment building at the south-westerly end of the site called 14 Brook Street.
These buildings have been designed as a new bit of city and civic urban space. The lost garden footprint of 20 Hanover Square has been reinstated as a public courtyard called Medici Courtyard, which forms the axis of a series of new pedestrian passages and streets between the new buildings, including a 5.5m-tall colonnaded section along the south side of 18 Hanover Square. There’s also a new route through to Tenterden Street from the courtyard. Meanwhile the revamped Medici Arcade that has always been there is now open to the public. All this work means you can now shortcut directly from Hanover Square to New Bond Street, avoiding the previous long detour via Oxford Street.
Architecturally, this part of the project is incredibly pleasant and considered. Specifically, looking at 18 Hanover Square from the opposite side of the square, at eight storeys it is a lot taller than its 20 Hanover Square next-door neighbour. It is one level taller than the next tallest building here. It is to gain extra space of course, but also helps to mark the building out against others so it is easier to find the Elizabeth Line inside. However, efforts have been made to reduce its heaviness. From the front, the two top stories are set back. The bulk of the building comprises brown brick laid out according to a rationalised symmetrical grid of openings, inspired by the vernacular of Mayfair, in particular Vogue House directly opposite. Unusually, where it is customary for architects to use their most expensive materials on the ground floor – as LDS has – Portland stone is also employed to clad the top two floors and reduce the perceived massing further. Then there are window railings across the first three floors, like those found on London Georgian townhouses, with a circular motif that carries on inside with a lily pad coffered ceiling, and brass circles in the floor and even on the soffit of the colonnade.
Meanwhile, back at Davies Street, the architectural flourish in the main ticket hall is provided by a kind of filled in colonnade to Weighhouse Street that aligns with the beam structure of the ceiling. The between spaces are glazed with bronze ventilation grills above. Railings beside the escalator and around the structural columns use bronze too.
Beyond these details unfortunately, compared to Paddington’s Elizabeth Line station designed by Weston Williamson, there is relatively little to elevate ones senses. This is not altogether the architect John McAslan + Partners’ fault. Rather, as one flows into the other, between the over-station development and the line-wide rolled out Grimshaw design of the underground concourse and platform, there is naturally little room for architectural manoeuvre. The 60m long escalator on the Hanover Square side is a thing of marvel (it is nearly as long as that at Angel Station). But at the base of the escalators (there are two on the Davies Street side) McAslan’s efforts mostly end and Grimshaw’s design begins. McAslan’s work is a bit lost in the process of making the two parts blend. It seems that if TfL wasn’t going to go down the Jubilee Line Extension route of commissioning architects to design stations as individual entities with their own identity, at a station like this, Grimshaw might have better been given responsibility for the whole lot, from station entrance to platform, just as Charles Holden had before.
At the western ticket hall the aforementioned artworks are, no doubt, seen as the component that is meant to make these ticket halls exhilarate. Yet the choice of three, all by Darren Almond, seem to fail at creating a sense of identity. The first, Horizon Line, comprising 144 hand-polished geometrical tiles, provides some visual relief behind the escalator as you start to descend. However, Shadow Line and Time Line – boilerplate name plates spelling out the words ‘Reflect from your shadow’ around the tunnel entrance at the bottom of the first escalator and ‘From under the glacier’ spaced out between the crossbeams –are probably too encrypted for most people to understand.
So it is Hanover Square, largely by LDS, that lifts this project from the back alley. This is a great piece of urban design, with appropriate architecture alongside strong environmental performance and sustainability credentials (the offices are BREEAM Excellent and restored 1726 townhouse is now Very Good). Perhaps the completion of PLP’s development and AHMM’s remodelling of West One will be enough to enliven the Davies Street side too. After all, Mayfair’s private equity firms are apparently on the march from the south of the district to this area further north, attracted by the idea of there being an express railway line to Heathrow underneath one’s office. All LDS’ buildings are now let out, despite difficulties in the commercial property market. The only disappointment is that Oxford Circus Underground Station, now a mere 200m away, didn’t get a subterranean connection to the Elizabeth Line from TfL as part of the scheme. The line is still relatively empty, and that would have opened its usefulness to many more people.
Bond Street Station
Client Crossrail / Transport for London
Architect John McAslan + Partners
Multidisciplinary engineer WSP
Contractors Skanska, Costain, Engie
Contractors’ consultants Hawkins\Brown, Arup
Artist Darren Almond