Crossrail After decades of planning and construction, the first part of London’s Elizabeth Line is due to open on 24 May
THE SENSE OF ANTICIPATION for the opening of the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) is intoxicating. At its peak, this was Europe’s biggest infrastructure project and, as it has forged its way beneath the city where the world’s first underground railway arrived in 1863, expectations are high.
Its reach will span the Essex commuter belt, south-east London suburbs, Heathrow and Reading, but its glory will be its subterranean journey through London clay and its calling card will be its bespoke Central London stations. Built for the purpose of revolutionising mass transit across Europe’s most densely populated region, some of these are their own works of art and their presence spans whole neighbourhoods. The project is an incredible witness to extraordinary planning and collaboration between architects and engineers across decades. The Elizabeth Line is truly something to be proud of in a time that is short on feel good and optimism.
Difficulties with issues like signalling systems have created well-publicised delays but all that will be forgotten when the first section between Paddington and Abbey Wood opens in the coming weeks.
Members of the public explore Farringdon Station as part of the 2018 Year of Engineering open day
The project is inevitably a reflection of our times, and issues such as accessibility, environmental concerns and the need to create a safe and calm environment are paramount. The seven principles behind the Elizabeth Line are laid out further down in a short Q&A with Crossrail’s head of architecture, Julian Robinson.
In any case, the aim is that the Elizabeth Line will be fit for purpose for 120 years and that an estimated 200 million passengers will use the line each year. Once the line starts operating, the billions spent and the many years invested will slip away to a forgotten place but it is the hope and firm belief that the smoother flowing of London’s transport system, and the many benefits that brings to people, will be a deserving and lasting tribute.
FX asked Crossrail’s Robinson a few questions to learn more about this gargantuan £18bn project that is set to change the face of London’s transportation network.
What have been the three biggest engineering challenges that the Elizabeth Line has faced and how were they overcome?
The complexity of designing/constructing a coordinated and integrated system threading 21km of tunnelling through a mass of subterranean obstacles such as foundations, utilities and existing tunnels without disturbing them or the buildings above, constructing the stations in tight urban sites with restricted access while London life continues.
What was the original vision for the Elizabeth Line project?
Seven principles have underpinned the design of the Elizabeth Line stations:
- Identity: Deliver a consistent brand through a modern and contemporary transport mode, responsive to its local contexts.
- Clarity: Create an understandable environment for passengers from the start to the end of their journey.
- Consistency: Implement a coherent line-wide design language, established through common materials and component within the Transport for London family.
- Inclusivity: Ensure the Elizabeth Line is for everyone.
- Sustainability: A best practice design that minimises waste, maximises the materials’ qualities, reduces energy consumption and is cost-efficient.
- Security: Provide safe and secure design solutions.
- People-focused: Designed to balance functional and people needs.
Robinson told the magazine: ‘The architectural vision and ambition was to think big, design for future growth and exploit the inherent features of the engineering to add to London’s rich railway architectural history with a train system that is well-integrated and designed to be safe, calm, spacious, accessible and identifiable.’
Key to the principle of consistency on the project was the design team, led by Grimshaw and including Atkins, Maynard and GIA Equation.
Everything from platforms and passenger tunnels are twice the size of their tube equivalents
The brief was to deliver a line-wide architecture that took in all design elements such as lighting, seating and wayfinding, and extended to the form and materials of the passenger walkway tunnels and platforms. These were applied line-wide and were adapted to suit a station’s location and its specific context.
Ten new stations have been built for the Elizabeth Line but a focus on consistency has meant that from station platforms to ticket halls, architectural forms and materials are recognisably consistent to give passengers a sense of familiarity across the route.
The aim has also been to imbue each of these 10 new stations with a sense of identity linked to where they are in London and this becomes more apparent as the passenger ascends the escalators or lifts to the ticket halls. The rest of the Elizabeth Line route includes 31 existing stations that have been upgraded.
Praising the contributions by other team members Atkins (engineering), GIA Equation (lighting) and Maynard (wayfinding), Grimshaw partner Neill McClements says there was an extraordinary amount of collaboration both within this line-wide project team and with the very many different design teams and architects working on the new Central London stations.
He told FX: ‘There has been this coherence and common thread to the whole line. We took our cues from the engineering to create the line-wide identity and then incorporated the individual uniqueness of each location by working with the design team of that particular station. The sheer size and scale of each station is itself a major feature of these Central London stations where the platforms have to accommodate 220m-long trains. The east and west ticket halls mean it’s almost like having two separate stations but as they span local neighbourhoods, we felt there was a very nice story to celebrate the uniqueness of those locations at each station. We tried to do that in the most sympathetic way. Below ground, we were 30m down in London clay and there’s a lot of commonality in appearance as you get close to the train. So the walls are spray concrete in the passenger tunnels and the cladding panels are from the same moulds. This consistency and familiarity is important to help make the experience more stress-free and enjoyable for the passengers.’
This need to make it as calm and straightforward for the passenger is woven into Grimshaw’s brief. McClements talks of how important it is to get the wayfinding right and he mentions the ‘moments of calm’ one can enjoy on the escalators and so be receptive to adjacent but subtle digital advertising.
With passage walls kept otherwise clear of ads, another anticipated pool of calm will be in front of the all-important 4m-high platform edge screens that are a fuller, more high tech-version of what already exists at some Jubilee Line stations. But the Elizabeth Line screens integrate several service elements such as ventilation, low-voltage LED lighting, CCTV, speakers and some advertising in digital display form.
The screens also include a ventilation duct and protect against both train noise and brake dust that can be quite an issue on the tube.
None of the design is by chance. It has been researched, tested and double tested in a ‘stage set’ in a hangar in Leighton Buzzard. These mock-ups have represented various Elizabeth Line stations.
According to architect and associate principal at Grimshaw, Jorrin ten Have: ‘The set allowed people to stand in the space and experience the scale of what it all meant. Once something was confirmed, a period of prototypes were developed during which we got everyone’s comments. But the protoypes allowed us to test materials and do basics like see how easy it was to attach or remove tunnel wall panels for maintenance.’
He says: ‘One of the biggest challenges was the fact that everything from platforms to the passenger tunnels are twice the size of their London Underground equivalents. And because of the sheer scale, we had to ensure that the exits to the east and west tickets halls were very clear. Otherwise, passengers could end up walking in the wrong direction for a long way. Spatially, we tried to shrink-wrap everything so that, for instance, the tunnels curve gradually and you have a flowing geometry. We also reduced any visual clutter and consolidated everything into the totems. These include speakers, signposts, uplights and even CCTV and power sockets. These are all grouped together so that the wall space remains clear and calm.’
On advertising, he says: ‘It took a lot of convincing to persuade TfL that advertising should be only at certain points like alongside the escalators and on the platform edge screens but once they had their advertisers on board with the idea, they loved the concept of dynamic, lively, linear bands of digital ads.’
CASE STUDY: CANARY WHARF
Canary Wharf Station’s rooftop garden sheltered by a timber lattice roof for natural lighting and irrigation. Image Credit: UYEN LUU
Mention must be given to the Elizabeth Line station at Canary Wharf. This station was the work of Adamson Associates.
Sitting below a five-storey mixed-use development, this station connects this key business district to the City of London, Heathrow and the West End.
An exterior view of the station showing its location within the financial district.
The 250m-long box station is surrounded by the water of the West India Quay dock and designing a station to be built 18m below water level presented a major design challenge but has yielded optimum access to and through the Canary Wharf estate while retaining a navigable channel for boats within the dock.
Eight long-rise escalators at either end of the building service the ticket hall.
The spacious station sits below 100,000 sq ft of retail and leisure facilities. Image Credit: JEFF DILLON-RUSSELL
The ticket hall is accessed via eight long-rise escalators at either end of the building. More than 100,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space sits above the station, providing easy access for shoppers, while a 310m long timber lattice roof, sheltering a roof top garden, lets in light and rain for natural irrigation.
CASE STUDY: WHITECHAPEL
The station architect for Whitechapel Station is Peter Jenkins from BDP.
He said: ‘A key part of the project at Whitechapel was to think of a radical reorganisation of the way the station would work, taking a previous assumption that all the movement of people would be under ground and flipping that round so that the concourse is above ground.’
Whitechapel’s new Elizabeth Line station sits on top of an existing station. The main concourse is above ground, while the rest of the station descends 30m underground. The design is intended to uplift and create positivity as passengers engage in their daily commute. The station has been built to last, with materials such as stone, granite and concrete. While the original exterior remains, the inside has been brought up to the standards of 2022. Image Credit: JAMES O JENKINS
One of the biggest challenges at this key East End interchange was to build a new station while keeping the existing London Underground/ Overground station in operation.
Jenkins told FX: ‘We couldn’t just put up a hoarding and so that kind of constraint influences your thinking and planning but the best designs come from having constraints and gives a richness to the project.
Whitechapel’s new Elizabeth Line station sits on top of an existing station. The main concourse is above ground, while the rest of the station descends 30m underground. The design is intended to uplift and create positivity as passengers engage in their daily commute. The station has been built to last, with materials such as stone, granite and concrete. While the original exterior remains, the inside has been brought up to the standards of 2022
So this is a new station but sits on top of an existing one and the very presence of what was originally a Victorian station was an inspiration and influenced the design of the interior.’
The original facade of the 1876 Whitechapel station remains but once inside, it is 2022 and what were once cramped ticket halls are light, bright, open to daylight on the sides in this surface level concourse with its robust materials, easy for maintenance and long-lasting. There is granite and stone flooring and concrete cladding.
The curving soffits in the roof of the ticket hall are, says Jenkins, key to creating a sense of space and an aid to drawing people upwards towards the escalators.
Suspended above the East London Line, the station also acts as a north/south bridge between two neighbourhoods that would otherwise have been split and divided by the railway line. On top of this bridge is a sedum roof that is a welcome splash of verdant relief in what is otherwise a relentless urban city scape though you will probably only see it if you are in one of the many surrounding higher buildings.
Jenkins says: ‘It’s a great opportunity to incorporate greenery and soften the environment. It’s a traditional roof overlaid with soft material planting that will give diff erent textures and colours according to the seasons. It also has benefits such as drainage and controlling the water run-off from the roof.’
He says of the whole project: ‘The design impacts and aff ects the lives of many thousands of people each day who use the building. It’s an opportunity to uplift their experience of going to and from work and to make it really positive.’
Crossrail has also worked with local authority London Borough of Tower Hamlets to help improve the local area near the station. This has involved a landscaped public square and cycle parking.
Step-free from street to platform
30m below ground
99,000 estimated passengers per day (Elizabeth Line)
24 trains per hour (peak, each way)
Interchange: District, Hammersmith & City, London Overground
A NEW LEVEL UP FOR LONDON
Liverpool Street will be the Elizabeth Line’s main station in the City
The Elizabeth Line was Europe’s largest infrastructure project and its Paddington to Abbey Wood section is due to open early this summer. It has cost over £18bn (£5bn has come from government), will run from both Heathrow and Reading in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. It will span 100km; 42km of this will be through new tunnels beneath London. It will carry an estimated 200 million passengers per year, boost Central London’s rail capacity by 10% and introduce 10 new stations. Thirty one existing stations have been upgraded. Paddington, Canary Wharf and Woolwich are ‘box stations’. This means the site was excavated and then created with concrete. The stations were then built inside the box.
CASE STUDY: LIVERPOOL STREET
The Elizabeth Line’s main station in the City of London is Liverpool Street, which spans the districts of Moorgate and Broadgate. This is another very busy hub with interchanges to multiple tube lines and National Rail connections to both Stansted and Southend airports. It has also been one of Crossrail’s trickier undertakings to weave into the area’s densely packed urban fabric. Some of the challenges underground have included the need to navigate existing tube lines, a network of sewers and a Post Office railway line. Then there was the delicate task of re-interring 4,000 skeletons from a mass burial site and the need to work with archaeologists on thousands of artefacts uncovered during the construction and dating back to Roman Londinium.
There are no big differences in the east and west ticket halls for Liverpool Street apart from dark blue glass panels near the entrance at the Moorgate entrance that announce that the City of London Corporation has part-funded the Elizabeth Line. At the Broadgate end, there is an inclined lift that floats up alongside the escalators and is there to aid anyone with accessibility needs. Towering above the Moorgate ticket hall is another Wilkinson Eyre project in the form of 21 Moorfields, 564,000 sq ft of high-quality retail and office space and set to be Deutsche Bank’s London HQ when it opens in late 2022.
Liverpool Street will feature interchanges with several other lines, including the Northern Line
It will also include a reconfigured high walk and act as a kind of bridge across the top of both the Circle and Elizabeth Lines.
The ticket halls themselves sport a unified architectural design and much use of materials such as Portland stone. A shallow, folded ceiling plane formed by ribbed pre-cast concrete panels breaks the perception of the low, flat ceilings to deliver a sense of space, scale and movement while a subtle sparkle of mica in the fibre-reinforced white concrete glows with indirect lighting.
By unifying the design principles across all Elizabeth Line stations, passengers will get a sense of continuity across the entire line. Image Credit: ANTONY GREENWOOD
You enter the eastern ticket hall at Broadgate (though the entrance name is Liverpool Street) through a 5m-high glazed canopy in an open pedestrian plaza. Natural light spills down below ground during the day but at night, the canopy becomes like a lantern with artificial lighting from inside shining out of the glazed entrance to illuminate the streetscape.
The western ticket hall at Moorgate is at street level and accessed through an angular portal entrance, framed by bold, blue coloured glass. Glass panels and acoustic panels made from perforated enamel steel are used on walls and terrazzo on the floors.
This has been a Wilkinson Eyre project and its director Ollie Tyler has been involved in the Crossrail project for a whopping 28 years. He told FX: ‘This is really the world’s first digital railway and the hope is that what we’re doing will last 120 years. But Liverpool Street has been one of the most challenging Elizabeth Line stations because of what we had to work around in the ground beneath the excavation site. I would liken our approach to surgery and plumbing when dealing with issues such as culverted rivers and archaeological finds. But the delights of digital surveying helped us with those.’
A ‘mined’ station – it has been excavated
34m below ground
238m-passenger platform length
124,000 passengers predicted per day on the Elizabeth Line
24 trains per hour (peak, each way)
CASE STUDY: PADDINGTON
As the first Central London stop on the Elizabeth Line for those arriving from Heathrow or Reading, Paddington aims to impress. With Brunel’s legacy apparent in the mainline station, the Elizabeth Line station mimics the Victorian’s sense of space and awe.
Sitting below Eastbourne Terrace, the new station spans three levels with two surface level entrances via a new pedestrianised public realm.
The surface level entrances boast a 90m void that allows air to circulate and natural light to flood down from the steel and glass canopy
A 90m clear opening is covered by dramatic steel and glass canopy that lets natural light flood down to the station while the void also allows natural air to circulate through the station – a boon in London’s summertime heat.
Printed on to the 120m long canopy is a bespoke work of art by US artist Spencer Finch. The ‘Cloud Index’ creates a picture of the sky that seems to change according to the light, the direction of the sun and the time of day.
The ticket hall here is also spacious and features eight flared elliptical columns, clad in bronze to head height and that carry the weight of the structure and dark anodised ‘lily pad’ light fittings that are embedded in to the concrete ceiling coffers.
This image The spacious ticket hall is illuminated by rows of anodised ‘lily pad’ light fittings
This has been a Weston Williamson project and its spokesperson, Steven Harding, told FX: ‘This is all part of a much bigger redevelopment project in the Paddington Basin but this project certainly aims to reproduce Brunel’s original sense of space and rhythm of architecture. The expansiveness here really strikes you and the whole scale of the Elizabeth Line station is deliberately large.’
20m below ground
208m platform length
174,000 passengers predicted per day
34 trains per hour (peak time)
Interchange: Bakerloo, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, National Rail