Problems with the Neighbours

This was originally published by Peter Delow on his blog HS2 and the Environment

Euston Station, part 1

It can be worrying news to learn that your neighbour is planning an extension to his home. Still at least you can be assured that he will have to comply with the planning rules, and certainly won’t be allowed to spread outside the boundary of his property into your back garden. However if your neighbour is Euston Station, and HS2 Ltd is involved, I’m afraid that the normal rules do not apply.

Now I would be the first to admit that something needs to be done with Euston Station. The present building is a product of the 1960s, when the madness of architects and town planners knew no bounds, apparently. It replaced the original Victorian building in the Neo-classical style, which had been the first London terminus to be constructed and by all accounts had become no longer fit for purpose. Controversially, with the exception of two Portland stone entrance lodges on Euston Road, a war memorial and some statues, all of the old building was swept aside; this vandalism included the destruction of the iconic Euston Arch.

This unfortunate architectural gaffe a half-century ago has resulted in two happier legacies. Firstly, it caused such an outcry that the conservation movement was given a significant boost that probably contributed to the salvation of St Pancras station. Secondly, it is unlikely that many will mourn the loss of the current station building – dingy, claustrophobic and with no architectural merit whatsoever – should the HS2 plans, that include the rebuilding of Euston Station, go ahead.

However, today’s architects, members of what seems at times an arrogant profession, need to be wary of creating a new architectural faux pas on the Euston site. The “artist’s impression” that has been released by HS2 Ltd (reproduced below) is, I presume, only conceptual at this stage, but it shows a “crystal palace” that you could be excused for mistaking as a design for a new supermarket.

Concept drawing for the new Euston Station (source: HS2 Ltd)

The new station will share one important feature with the current building; the incorporation of “mixed use” accommodation. The current building has its three low-rise office towers and we are promised by the Government that “new development including residential and business uses, streets and public spaces could be created above the proposed new platforms”. But here I think is where the new design is likely to repeat the main mistake of the current station. The main joy of the magnificent Victorian terminus stations, such as St Pancras, is the light and airy train shed which welcomes the traveller as he alights. If the new Euston consigns the platforms to the basement of a low-rise office and hotel complex, it is likely to repeat the current Euston experience of arriving on a low-roofed and dim platform that resembles a cellar.

A brochure produced by British Rail London Midland Region in 1968 (here) demonstrates the optimism with which the new, as it was then, Euston Station was introduced to the public:

“Here was a challenge indeed for the railway architects – to produce a new station bold in design and layout and in keeping with a new railway era. As a result, an imaginative and distinctive design has been produced making the station the most modem rail terminal to be found anywhere …”

I am sure that we will read similar sentiments from HS2 Ltd and its architects about the rebuild that is planned now. I hope that fifty years or more on someone like me will not be describing the HS2 station as an “architectural gaffe” or using similar, or worse, terms.

However aside from the possible aesthetic pitfalls, the real problem with the new design is the one that I alluded to at the start of this blog; the plans entail a significant increase in the footprint of the station.

In the next blog I will investigate why HS2 Ltd is proposing to increase the area covered by the station and, as a consequence, will need to engage in wholesale demolition of other properties that lie within the enlarged footprint.

However before closing this current blog, it is important to record that whilst the present HS2 plans include the rebuilding of Euston Station, it is surely the case that some form of regeneration will be inevitable even if the current HS2 plans get parked in a siding. The most recent proposal prior to HS2 was by British Land in 2008. What characterises the HS2 redevelopment is the planned enlargement of the station footprint, with the resulting demolition of many neighbouring properties, which has not been a feature of previous proposals.

PS: Whilst I think that the majority is with me in thinking that Euston Station is a monstrosity, there are apparently some people who hold a contrary opinion. In the interests of balance therefore I should refer you to the views of Professor Mark Crinson (here).

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