King’s Cross: The final works

After the opening of the Western Concourse at King’s Cross in March 2012, the next stages of the work to restore King’s Cross to its deserved grandeur was temporarily halted so as not to disrupt the passenger flows during the Olympics. Writes Clive Kessell

Once these were concluded, work recommenced last autumn to remove the 1970s southern concourse and restore the splendour of Lewis Cubitt’s 1852 original station frontage.

The uninitiated might think that tidying up the station frontage involved just a bit of quick demolition and the laying of a few paving slabs. In fact the single storey concourse, which has attracted much criticism in recent times, had in fact been opened in a blaze of glory back in 1973.

It had replaced a 1960s traditional narrow window ticket office and had brought all the usual travel facilities into a single integrated area. However, even in those days, there were plans afoot for the redevelopment of the King’s Cross-St Pancras locality.kgxsquare5 [online]

Grandiose schemes

The concourse was always considered a temporary solution. Nothing came of these grandiose schemes and the concourse soldiered on for over 35 years. With hindsight, this may well have been fortuitous as architectural concepts and respect for the environment has improved immensely in the meantime.

The old concourse suffered mainly from lack of space, around 2500 square metres, which when coupled with arriving and departing passengers, now estimated at 47 million every year, proved to be wholly inadequate for the upsurge in traffic.

Cleverly concealed within the concourse were two large ventilation shafts and one smaller one serving the deep level underground lines below the main station. With demolition, these would once again become prominent and so present a challenge on how to tastefully disguise in the future.

The concourse also gave access to London Underground via a stairway and escalator, neither of which could remain.

The LU ticket hall is only just beneath the surface of King’s Cross frontage, making the demolition work even more sensitive.

Intricate lattice pattern

With the Olympics over, the first tasks were to remove the remaining retail outlets, the left luggage facilities and the ticket office IT server, the latter not having been transferred at the time of the Western Concourse opening.

Removal of the roof had to be carefully planned. The 1970s Spacedeck construction formed an intricate lattice pattern that was self-supporting but with each component being a part of the integral strength.

To begin removing struts piecemeal could result in a catastrophic collapse, not only causing risk to anyone working in the vicinity but also potential damage to the LU ticket hall underneath.

As far as could be ascertained, the method of construction had been to assemble the complete roof at ground level, then slowly jack it up to the required height once the supporting walls were in place. One option was to reverse this process but even this was not without risk.

Murphy, as the main contractor, eventually engaged a specialist firm, AR Demolition of Leicester, who had previous experience of these kind of roofs and their expertise has proved successful in getting the roof dismantled. At the time of writing (early February), only the last elements had still to be removed.

Once complete, the lower half of the Cubitt frontage, which has not been directly viewable for very many years, will have its brickwork repaired and cleaned in readiness for glass screens with automatic glass doors to be provided, thus filling in the now exposed ground level arches.

To protect travellers leaving by the station front and for those traversing from an easterly direction towards the new concourse, a glass canopy will be built above the arches. This will be a cantilevered design but conservation rules will not allow this to be directly attached to the brickwork. Upright columns will support the cantilevers, designed in such a way as to be unobtrusive and not spoil the appearance of the station.

King’s Cross SquareKX Platforms & New Roof [online]

The whole area in front of the station is to be re-named and made into something special as part of the rejuvenation of this one time rather seedy locale. Parallel with the Euston Road will be a row of japonica trees in sunken planters, this being possible as it is clear of the Metropolitan Line tunnels.

Down the side of Pancras Road between the two stations, will be more trees but this time in raised planters so as not to interfere with the underground ticket hall. Benches will be positioned in line with the trees so as to allow travellers to rest awhile and take in the surroundings.

The LU ventilation shafts will be encased in black Portuguese granite flutes with white granite slabs used to band the shafts near to ground level. Stainless steel lighting masts will make a feature of the Cubitt façade and a combination of uplighters and downlighters will illuminate the square in the hours of darkness.

Enclosed entrances to London Underground ticket halls are being revamped – the one leading off platform 8 is currently closed – to blend in with the created ambience. The whole plaza – to be known as King’s Cross Square – will be covered by York paving and protected by security bollards to stop any uninvited vehicular access.

The Station Roof and Clock Tower

A year ago, the twin barrel roofs of the main station were in the process of being reglazed. This work is now complete and the result is a much more airy atmosphere inside the station. When viewed from above, the result is even more spectacular and only then can one get the magnitude of the work that has been undertaken.

In addition to the glass sections, the extent of the solar panels is revealed, these significantly helping the power demands of the station. A meter constantly monitors the power being generated and the percentage that this is contributing. Access walkways and platforms will allow the roof to be kept in tip top condition, something that the Victorian forbears never enjoyed.

The external focus of the station remains as ever, the clock tower. This is three sided – no need for the fourth side as this only overlooks the roof – and whilst no major work has been undertaken on this element of the station, the mechanism for driving the hands and keeping good time has been renewed.

Those of us in the past, who were familiar with ‘waiting train’ clock movements, knew how difficult it was to keep these maintained so as to ensure good timekeeping. The tiny replacement electronic box, supplied by Smiths of Alfreton Road, Derby, barely does justice to the importance of its role but it does the job of powering the three way geared drive mechanisms to the hands very well.

The station revamp is almost complete and when finished will be a credit to this part of London. The £12M spent on this final stage of the project is a considerable sum but will be judged well worth it in the longer term. Completion will be achieved by autumn 2013.

Network Rail and Murphys have worked in harmony to ensure a successful project but mention must also be made of Stanton Williams who were retained as the architect and Arup who did all the engineering design and electrical work.

Thanks to Matt Tolan of Network Rail and Patrick Shaw of Murphy for their help and advice.

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