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Many of the public spaces around Crossrail’s stations neglect their context with bland design

Canary Wharf Crossrail station.
Canary Wharf Crossrail station.

After decades of planning, completion of the first phase of the Crossrail rail link is now just a few short years away.

The transport benefits are undeniably huge, but these are not the focus of this small exhibit tucked away in the RIBA’s new second floor Practice Space gallery. Instead, this show focuses on the built outcome of Crossrail and in particular the £130m of work to the urban realm around the stations.

These spaces really matter as the interface between the stations and the surrounding urban fabric. They are the entrances, approaches and gathering places with which both passengers and passers-by will repeatedly interact, and as such will have far greater impact on most of us than the considerable over-the-station developments themselves, which are also shown in this exhibition. Crossrail is a rare opportunity for such inbetween spaces to be considered as part of an integrated design scheme with the stations and the over-station development.


Forest Gate Station.
Forest Gate Station.

With some 190,000m2 of space across 40 stations – equivalent, we’re told, to 18 Leicester Squares – it’s a subject worth exploring in rather more depth than has been possible in this limited display, with each space explained on a board and in some cases with a model.

A few do catch the eye. In the heart of town at Hanover Square, where the public realm for Crossrail’s Bond Street station is being designed by John McAslan + Partners, the principles of shared space should create a much more pedestrian friendly experience, and an opportunity for more coherence with the station buildings themselves. Foster’s Canary Wharf Crossrail promises to be a very different affair – a dramatic rooftop garden within an open lattice structure looking out over the North Dock. And at Woolwich, Gillespies’ work includes – from these few visualisations – what looks to be an interesting green oasis amid a dense housing development.

But although it would be good to be proved wrong, much of what’s promised looks a little underwhelming. In the main, these urban realm improvements, though undoubtedly pedestrian friendly, seem to run the danger of knocking the – albeit sometimes flawed ­– local character out of the spaces surrounding the stations while failing to replace it with any distinctive flavour of their own. It would have been nice to hear more from the designers and architects about their aspirations for the new spaces.  Perhaps some of these spaces will have more character when the contributions of the many artists who are working with the design teams on Crossrail becomes evident.

Either way, we’ll find out soon enough for ourselves – Crossrail is due to open in 2018.

  • Whitechapel Station.
    Whitechapel Station.
  • Tottenham Court Road Station.
    Tottenham Court Road Station.
  • Maryland Station.
    Maryland Station.
  • Bond Street Station.
    Bond Street Station.
  • Woolwich Station.
    Woolwich Station.

Places & Spaces: Urban Realm and Development on the Crossrail Route
Until July 17
The Practice Space, RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London.

Ilford Station.
Ilford Station.

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