King’s Cross Square

Put out the flags! Let the bands play!

For tomorrow – 26 September 2013 – is an historic day! And not because Network Rail’s David Higgins has been appointed the next chairman of High Speed 2 Limited (although that’s pretty important).
No, for tomorrow is the day Network Rail unveils its new public square outside King’s Cross station. NR reckons it will be the first time for 161 years that people will have an unobstructed view of Lewis Cubitt’s London terminus.
NR has spent the last year tearing down the station’s old southern concourse in a job more difficult than it looked thanks to the concourse roof’s particular construction. That concourse was meant to be temporary when it was built in the 1970s to replace a plethora of huts than inhabited the space between the station and Euston Road. There was also a classic London Underground station building in the same area to lend some dignity to what otherwise was just a jumble.
However, all is now gone. There is now a square with stripes of granite running across it to reflect, according to its architects, the linear rhythm of the railway. Benches and trees will relieve the space, as will three vent shafts.
I suspect the architects would have preferred not to have London Underground vent shafts spoiling the otherwise clean lines of their square. However, they could not be moved and so the designers have made the best of the job in hand.
From west to east the vents are known as the Egg, the Rotunda and the Push-Pull, with the latter the least obvious. The Egg and Rotunda will feature a shop each to make them at least appear useful to passing pedestrians. They have also been clad in granite.
There is also an army of stumpy silver pillars lining the edge of the square. Apparently compulsory for unexplained security reasons they have the effect of enclosing this public space.
The square marks the final stage of the station’s massive rebuilding project. It’s certainly come a long way from its dingy past of just a few years ago. It’s now a welcoming and bright place; more refined than its brash neighbour St Pancras. And with York or Edinburgh on offer from its trains there’s every reason to become a passenger.
King's Cross Square large 24 September 2013
A view from the roof of King’s Cross station on 24 September 2013 as work continues to make the square beneath ready for its grand opening on 26 September.

By Philip Haigh

Freelance railway writer, former deputy editor at RAIL magazine - news, views and analysis of today's railway.

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