Politicians’ criticisms of the Elizabeth Line’s station designs are about as useful as a chocolate teapot, says Paul Finch
It was with near disbelief that I read about politicians criticising station design for delays to the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line project. ‘If in doubt, attack architects’ seems to be the mantra of the London Assembly’s transport committee, which I note is chaired by Caroline Pidgeon. As a Lib Dem she should, of course, be used to hopeless failure by now. But who to blame?
Most of the stations are ready to use, by the way, but her committee claims that their ‘design features are complex and bespoke’. It cites (without naming the architect) Weston Williamson’s wonderful Paddington project as an example, because ‘a large steel and glass canopy will be used to bring in natural light’.
01 Paddington Station proposed ticket hall 235985
Are steel and glass canopies really that complex or bespoke, except in the sense that they have to be designed for a specific context, in this case an existing listed station? These committee members wouldn’t know one way or another, but they have their own bone-headed suggestion as to how to proceed in future: ‘strive to keep designs simple, incorporating standard rather than bespoke features’.
It sounds to me as though they have been given a briefing by one of those bean counters whose cut-and-paste opinions are about as useful as a chocolate teapot in respect of major interchanges, coping with millions of passengers every year. And of course many of the ‘features’ – unnamed, naturally – will indeed be standard.
It is complex and non-synchronised signalling systems that have caused the major problem for Crossrail
When it comes to station design, Weston Williamson has a rather different track record to the know-nothing committee. This has just been recognised by them being awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of outstanding international growth.
As the practice says, working on Elizabeth Line stations at Paddington (and Woolwich too) ‘has given us the opportunity to compete for major projects in Australia and Canada over the last three years’. As a result, the practice is designing and delivering five stations on the Metro Tunnel Project in Melbourne; upgrading Sydney’s Metro Sydenham Station; delivering two stations and associated urban realm on the Yonge metro line extension in Toronto; and in the same city designing a new regional transit centre and passenger processing facility at Pearson International Airport. Committee please note.
Roland Paoletti, superintending genius of the Jubilee Line extension station programme, pointed out many years ago that, whatever the overspend on his stations might have been, compared to the cost overruns on tunnelling, it was a drop in the ocean. If the committee reads newspapers, it will notice that it is complex and non-synchronised signalling systems that have caused a major problem for Crossrail, and that this should have been picked up by senior management (who left the organisation before the ordure hit the air-conditioning).
Terry Farrell warned Transport for London five years ago that they would not be able to complete the project on time, following an analysis required in relation to a transport study the practice was undertaking. His warnings were ignored.
The transport committee, instead of making moronic complaints about the architecture of the stations, should be taking a longer, deeper look at the history of this train-wreck.
An apology is owing
The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is founded on a fallacy – that if only housing estate designs were more Classical/traditional, planning delays would evaporate and we would have no homes shortage.
I must therefore admit that I experienced a schadenfreude moment when Roger Scruton was sacked as the commission’s chairman, following remarks he had made in a magazine interview. I assumed that the New Statesman had accurately reported his views on Chinese people and the political situation in Hungary, but it turns out that by stripping the quotes from their context it seriously misled readers. Indeed in two cases, the remarks as reported are virtually the opposite of what he actually said, in a transcript now published.
Since I was too hasty in welcoming the news of Sir Roger’s removal, and falling for what now looks like propaganda, I offer him my apologies. I should have been more sceptical.
Lambeth should wake up
Tony Fretton’s proposal for a modest two-storey language school extension in Roupell Street, Waterloo, is now going to appeal following a dim-witted refusal by Lambeth planning committee. I don’t generally have time to write support letters for good projects where the architect is being given the runaround. But in this case (where the culprits are councillors rather than officers) I wrote to the planners describing the design as exemplary, which it is. The councillors should think twice before proceeding with an appeal which is quite unnecessary.