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The Elizabeth Line, London

Words:
Regional Awards Jury

Grimshaw's mighty infrastructure project involved intense collaboration between its multidisciplinary team and engineers, lighting designers and wayfinding experts – and wins them all a 2024 RIBA London Building of the Year award

The Elizabeth Line.
The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow

2024 RIBA London Award
2024 RIBA London Building of the Year sponsored by EH Smith

The Elizabeth Line, London 
Grimshaw, Maynard, Equation, Atkins with Maynard for Crossrail
Contract value: £18,600m

The Elizabeth Line is a tour de force. Running across London from Heathrow Airport and Reading at the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, it has 62 miles of track, 26 miles of new tunnels, 10 new and 31 upgraded stations, including some nine to 10 storeys below ground, and is anticipated to carry 200 million passengers per year. Its success is the outcome of intense collaboration between the multidisciplinary team of architects, engineers, lighting designers and wayfinding experts, as well as manufacturers and suppliers. The aim was to provide users with as coherent an experience as possible, create a familiar feel, improve comfort for cross-London travel, ease navigation and flow and standardise elements. The design adopts a clear visual language and has a consistent material palette and approach to detailing.

  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
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The project team was organised into ‘station’ and ‘line-wide’ teams. The line-wide team was responsible for overall experience in areas below ground, encompassing concourses, tunnels, and platform environments. The main works packages included tunnel linings, platform edge screens, signage and wayfinding, flooring, lighting, seating, poster frames, fire equipment cabinets, handrails and balustrades and communication equipment integration.

The ethos behind the component design was to rationalise and refine. Stakeholders were involved from an early stage and full-size prototypes were produced for performance testing. Passenger tunnels are lined with spray-painted, glass-reinforced concrete panels that are curved at tunnel intersections to minimise blind spots and improve flow. Through collaboration, the team were able to reduce the number of different tunnel diameters and components and improve the efficiency and complexity of the design. 

The passenger experience feels significantly different from other tube lines. The Elizabeth Line’s spaces are decluttered and calm and the acoustics feel appropriately muted. The overall material palette is limited, with concrete-lined walls and glass and stainless steel to the platform edge screens and technological totems. Grouping the technology has also rationalised servicing, maintenance and replacement. Passenger wayfinding is key to the experience. Information has been cleverly ordered. Waiting for the train, the directions are clearly displayed only on the platform edge screen. Stepping off the train, you will find the guidance you need on the back wall of the tunnel, facing you. There are no other display distractions here.

  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • The Elizabeth Line.
    The Elizabeth Line. Credit: Hufton + Crow
12345

As a vast infrastructure project, the Elizabeth Line defies most of the current metrics of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge. The initial whole life carbon assessment revealed that a huge amount of carbon would be used in the creation of the tunnels. (Almost 100 per cent of excavated material was diverted from landfill and deposited at a nature reserve in Essex.) The 120-year lifespan of the project meant that much could be attributed to operational energy, far outweighing the embodied carbon created. This realigned the focus on the operation and maintenance of the scheme, with easily replaceable and accessible elements. Ultimately, the team created their own benchmarks, which has resulted in this being one of the UK’s most sustainable infrastructure projects.

See RIBA Journal features on the Elizabeth Line’s Paddington Station and Liverpool Street Station.

See the rest of the RIBA London winners hereAnd all the RIBA Regional Awards here.

To see the whole RIBA Awards process visit architecture.com.

RIBA Regional Awards 2024 sponsored by EH Smith and Autodesk

 

Credits

Engineering Atkins
Lighting design Equation
Graphic design Maynard

 

Credit: Grimshaw
Credit: Grimshaw
Credit: Grimshaw
Credit: Grimshaw
Credit: Grimshaw
Credit: Grimshaw

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