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Experts' view: Crossrail’s new stations fail to inspire

  • 1 Comment

NEWS FEATURE: Key industry figures say they are disappointed by new visuals of Elizabeth line stations, writes Laura Mark

The pioneering client behind the design of more than 2,800 of the UK’s rail stations, Jane Priestman, has said the recently released images of Crossrail’s 10 new stations are ‘not inspired’.

Previously largely unseen, the schemes were drawn up by a pool of architects including Weston Williamson, Allies and Morrison, BDP, WilkinsonEyre, John McAslan + Partners, and AHR.

The Elizabeth line, as it will be called, will run from Berkshire through the capital and out to Essex, and will eventually boast 40 stations on the 118km route. Besides the 10 central London stations, the £14.8 billion project is also revamping 27 surface stations outside the capital.

In late 2013 some of the route’s surface stations outside central London came under fire from Richard Rogers, who warned that they would fail to live up to the country’s ‘great railway heritage’.

Priestman, who commissioned Grimshaw to work on Waterloo International station, added: ‘I know, all too well, that it is difficult to make tunnels and escalators look much different, but despite restrictions it is possible to contribute more than the bland.’

Crossrail Route   V

Her concerns were echoed by Ian Ritchie, who worked on the Jubilee line and said the designs lacked ‘direction’ and were missing the feeling of ‘great civil structures’.  

Christian Coop, design director at NBBJ’s London studio said the new images ‘made the project feel real perhaps for the first time since its announcement in 1994’. However, he added: ‘The stations certainly look modern, clean and functional, but are these stations a worthy addition to London’s grand Victorian infrastructure?’

According to Crossrail, the images released ‘provide a glimpse of the common features passengers will see at platform level, as well as the bespoke design of the ticket halls and surface areas which will reflect the character of their local areas’.

Design appointments for most of the central stations were made under Crossrail’s framework agreements.

Julian Robinson, head of design at Crossrail, says ‘people will  inevitably draw comparisons with the Jubilee line project, where there was a lot of individuality – even at platform level.

‘On Crossrail we have adopted a strong brand identity, especially in the tunnel environment. If all the trains can be described as “100 per cent Elizabeth line”, then the platforms are slightly less so, and as you move further through the station to the entrance, each building gains more and more individuality.’

Robinson says a common palette of materials is used across the stations, which includes ‘self-finished metals’ and GRC.  Robinson claims these were inspired by systems in Copenhagen, Hong Kong and Singapore.‘We’ve avoided vitreous enamel [as is used on the Tube] and opted for GRC and concrete, some of which can be fabricated off site to improve quality.’

The stations are set to open in December 2018.

Expert opinion

ian ritchie i090312

ian ritchie i090312

Ian Ritchie, Ian Ritchie Architects

The pedagogy of metro projects reflects politics and a city’s aspirations.

The engineers and architects of San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system connected stations to place and designed with a common kit of parts. Washington Metro architect Harry Weese had a vision but issues with delivery. Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway was engineering led with an accent on pragmatism and commercial over-development. The Jubilee line had a like-minded selection of architects (technical contractors) harnessed to engineers under the Medici-like orchestration of Roland Paoletti. There was a focus on great practical space following the railway mantra: reliability, availability, maintainability.

Each approach has its merits and weaknesses. Each project takes direction from the politik of the moment.

Transcending this are the practicalities, seized upon with delight for the Jubilee line: hard-core exposed civil engineering, daylight where possible, access to services, and an understanding of the ever-changing add-ons and take-aways that are the bread and butter of modern urban transport.

The images of the Crossrail stations indicate elements of all of the above. Glimmers of glorious structure, and shafts of light, but with a hesitation in direction. The images raise more questions than answers.

Where are the great civil structures? There is a hint at Whitechapel, but they are hidden away elsewhere.  

Where is this strong emphasis on cladding coming from? Does it address the issues of services, access, maintenance and replacement? Historically, the relationship of civil engineers to architects was: ‘here come the wallpaperers and tilers.’ Norman Foster memorably encapsulated this attitude as ‘putting lipstick on the face of the gorilla’.

The principle of employing a line-wide common design environment at platform level for those stations underground seems to have created an abrupt visual disconnect between the upper spaces and the platforms. The Jubilee line designers had design authority throughout up to the platform edge doors.

Most of the present interior visuals miss off the key signage that is so evident in reality. 


01 Paddington Station   proposed ticket hall Weston Williamson

Paddington station

  • Station architect Weston Williamson
  • Engineer design AECOM
  • Main contractor Costain Skanska JV
  • Urban realm design Gillespies/URS/Weston Williamson
  • Station structure box
  • Excavated material 315,000 tonnes
  • Depth below ground 20m

02 Bond Street station   proposed ticket hall on Hanover Square 235994

Bond Street station 

  • Station architect John McAslan + Partners
  • Engineer design WSP
  • Main contractor Costain Skanska JV
  • Urban realm design John McAslan + Partners / WPS / Publica
  • Oversite development partners Great Portland Estates (Hanover Square), Grosvenor Estates (Davies Street)
  • Station structure mined
  • Excavated material 302,000 tonnes
  • Depth below ground 28m

03 Tottenham Court Road station   proposed escalator leading from Dean Street ticket hall 236018

Tottenham Court Road station 

  • Architect Hawkins\Brown
  • Engineer design Arup / Atkins
  • Main contractor Laing O’Rourke
  • Urban realm design Gillespies 
  • Oversite development partner Derwent London (One Oxford Street)
  • Station structure mined
  • Depth below ground 24m

05 Liverpool Street station   proposed Moorgate ticket hall 236014

Liverpool Street station

  • Architect WilkinsonEyre
  • Engineer design Mott MacDonald
  • Main contractor Laing O’Rourke
  • Urban realm design Burns + Nice / URS
  • Oversite development partner Aviva Investors
  • Station structure mined
  • Excavated material 567,000 tonnes
  • Depth below ground 34m

04 Farringdon station   proposed ticket hall on Cowcross Street  236024

Farringdon station 

  • Architect AHR
  • Engineer design AECOM
  • Main contractor Bam Ferrovial Kier JV
  • Urban realm design Burns + Nice / URS
  • Oversite development partner Cardinal Lysander (Cardinal House)
  • Station structure mined
  • Excavated material 332,000 tonnes
  • Depth below ground 25m

06 Whitechapel station   proposed ticket hall on Mile End road 235989

Whitechapel station

  • Architect BDP
  • Engineer design Arcadis
  • Main contractor BBMV JV
  • Urban realm designs BDP / Arcadis
  • Station structure mined
  • Excavated material 451,000 tonnes
  • Depth below ground 30m

Canary Wharf Crossrail Station

Canary Wharf Crossrail Station

Canary Wharf Crossrail Station

Canary Wharf station

  • Client Canary Wharf Contractors
  • Station concept architect Tony Meadows Associates
  • Executive architect Adamson Associates
  • Oversite development architect Foster + Partners
  • Engineer and lead consultant Arup
  • Urban realm design Gillespies
  • Station structure box
  • Depth below ground 28m
  • Status Completed

08 Custom House Station architects impression   Entrance Barriers 127365

Custom House station

  • Architect Allies and Morrison
  • Engineer design Atkins
  • Main contractor Laing O’Rourke
  • Urban realm design Ramboll
  • Station structure above ground

10 Abbey Wood Station Design   Architects Impression 86700

Abbey Wood station

  • Client Crossrail, Network Rail
  • Architect Fereday Pollard
  • Engineer design Tony Gee and Partners, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff
  • Main contractor Balfour Beatty Rail
  • Urban realm design Urban Movement
  • Station structure above ground

09 Woolwich station   proposed station entrance on Dial Arch Square 235995

Woolwich station

  • Clients Crossrail, Berkeley Homes
  • Architect Weston Williamson
  • Engineer design Arup
  • Main contractor (station fit-out) Balfour Beatty
  • Urban realm design Gillespies / Atkins 
  • Station structure box
  • Depth below ground 14m
  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • What's Julian Robinson got against vitreous enamel? It's surely a well proven, practical, versatile and extremely useful material that's been used to good effect throughout London's transport infrastructure for goodness knows how long, and has been a vital element in developing the strong corporate identity of London Transport down the years.
    I wonder what Frank Pick and the likes of Jock Kinneir would have to say about this?
    Mr Robinson talks of establishing a strong brand identity - for what will be the first of a new breed of TfL commissioned London versions of Paris's RER lines. Fine, but I hope it's not at the expense of a unified corporate identity for London's urban transport.
    Thameslink could be termed the first such line, but doesn't 'read' as such and suffers from some truly awful signage in places - whereas there seems to have been plenty of thought put into the unified re-imaging the identity of what has in recent years become TfL's 'Overground' system.

    Ian Ritchie points out that 'most of the present interior visuals miss off the key signage that is so evident in reality' and I wonder whether the enthusiasm to establish a strong brand identity is dumbing down the architecture when the signage could unify the brand across a rather more characterful series of stations?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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