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Weston Williamson recognises the unique nature of transport interchanges as an important part of the shared urban experience and foresees a more holistic approach ahead for both design and funding. This essay by Pamela Buxton, freelance architecture and design journalist, was written following a series of conversations with WestonWilliamson+Partners. It is one in a series marking the 30th anniversary of the practice in 2015.

1. The Railway Station by William Powell Frith, 1862, captures the atmosphere and the excitement of rail travel and the new station at Paddington.



early 200 years after the Victorians embarked on the first great railway age, rail travel is enjoying a resurgence. The number of train journeys has increased by 12 per cent in just five years. Passenger journeys are now at their highest since the previous peak in the 1920s. Unprecedented investment is underway, such as that in HS2—a £42.6 billion high speed network linking London with Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and beyond. Also, across the capital and after decades of planning, the first phase of Crossrail’s £15 billion suburban rail network is well on the way to completion, with further phases to come. Time will tell if this is the start of another great railway age. But it is certainly a far cry from the years of decline following the Beeching closures half a century ago. Nowadays, thanks to air travel and the reach of the internet, our horizons are global rather than national. It is therefore hard to comprehend the huge impact the railways had on Victorian culture. At a time when many people went for years without venturing outside their locality, the new rail network broadened their horizons. The country immediately became a much smaller place. Towns on railway routes prospered and, in the cities, the early pioneers of station design developed engineering and architecture that celebrated this transport revolution. The great stations of the Victorian era were given huge civic presence by designers such as Lewis Cubitt, architect of King’s Cross terminal, St Pancras architect George Gilbert Scott, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose many achievements included the splendid design for Paddington station. Many, like James Pigott Pritchett’s Huddersfield station—described by the poet John Betjeman as the most splendid railway frontage in England—were designed as the focus of an adjoining public square, and remain hugely important buildings in the cityscape over 150 years later.

Unique public buildings Weston Williamson believes that we are rediscovering the idea that travel is celebrated as an exciting part of urban life rather than merely a means of getting from A to B. Stations are much more peopleorientated. Gone are the goods yards and sidings; instead, the land is given over to new parts of the city and regenerated with places to live and work. Stations sit at the heart of this regeneration and are increasingly seen as destinations for retail and refreshment in their own right, not just for passengers, but also for those living or working in the surrounding areas.

2+3. The Jubilee Line Extension altered people’s perceptions of what an underground station could be by using high calibre designers with new, innovative ideas.


This is particularly the case at St Pancras International, where the retail mall is a magnet for the broader community, and is the focus for a new London quarter that incorporates housing, offices, and cultural and educational buildings. While stations were one of many types of grand civic buildings developed by the Victorians, contemporary stations can be seen as one of the few truly public buildings, following the decline of traditional shared public spaces such as libraries, churches, town halls, and post offices. Unlike airports, they are integrated into the fabric of everyday city life. Stations create an inclusive, collective communal experience. There is huge scope for the new breed of stations, such as the Weston Williamson-designed Old Oak Common for HS2, to have a key civic role in the surrounding community. Like their Victorian predecessors, new stations are often built before the surroundings develop. Understanding how the public space within and around the station can be designed to provide a focus for new development is a priority. The potential for these modern transport hubs to provide a focus for the regeneration of such cities is enormous. The work of the practice at Paddington for Crossrail seeks to deliver much more than a functional transport facility. The architecture deliberately celebrates the station as a public space and as a dynamic part of the urban experience. As at King’s Cross, the new station supports the regeneration of old railway land. The adjacent canal basin and sites of goods yards will eventually accommodate over three million sq ft of new developments.

Starting out Weston Williamson’s involvement with transport design began back in 1987 when the practice was commissioned by Nick Derbyshire of British Rail to design a new station at Bognor Regis. It is now one of the leading transport design practices in the UK, employing 45 architects working on rail projects in the UK, and a further 10 engaged in the design of overseas transport networks. The Bognor Regis project work gave the practice valuable rail experience that helped secure an interview with Roland Paoletti, in 1991, to be part of the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) team.

Paoletti could see the civic potential of a series of new stations on the new underground line and was keen to use young architects who hadn’t designed stations before to challenge the traditional way of doing things. Weston Williamson was put on a shortlist for London Bridge Station and chosen after their submission of design ideas and competitive price tender. This commission may have lacked the spatial grandeur of many of the other stations on the extension, such as Canary Wharf or Westminster stations, but it was a great project to begin to explore the high quality component design and careful treatment of space that was to become part of their philosophy. Paoletti chose to adopt many of Weston Williamson’s proposals for London Bridge and implemented them not only at that station but elsewhere on the extension to create a strong but subtle identity for the line as a whole. Examples include the design of the distinctive cast iron cladding panels, the overhead services rig, and the platform seating. Designed by a roster of talented architects and orchestrated by Paoletti, the JLE was a huge success when it opened in 1999, altering people’s perceptions of what architecture could do to transform potentially grim transport spaces into uplifting passenger experiences. Weston Williamson felt the voice of the architect was valued as one of reason and holistic thinking on the project, and it was this commission that really set the practice off on its journey to become experts in the design of transport environments. The practice has gone on to specialise in transport as an area where architecture can have a big impact on the quality of city life. Other recent rail work includes stations on the Docklands Light Railway and East London Line extensions. As planner Colin Clark noted in The Town Planning Review (Vol. 28, No. 4, Jan., 1958): “Transport is the maker and breaker of cities”. Clients are also increasingly recognising the potential for stations to be far more than just transport hubs. The practice believes that successful station design is about placemaking: making spaces that are right for people to move through and connect with the city.


4+5. The Barlow train shed at St Pancras has been transformed into a destination of its own. It is an integral part of the King’s Cross Masterplan developed by Argent.


A new railway age Weston Williamson is also attracted to the importance and complexity of stations as a building type. Many modern building types can be quite formulaic to build, but stations are multi-layered, especially when working with civil engineers and contractors to plan how to build them, often in highly congested and historic city centres. The cost and longevity of transport infrastructures means that it is the responsibility of designers to get the big decisions right. This was particularly the case with Crossrail—the practice’s next major transport project—involving the design of several stations, including Royal Arsenal Woolwich and Paddington. As well as the logistical complexities of building right through the centre of London and avoiding centuries of subterranean infrastructure, such projects are intricate juggling acts for designers as they seek to please the many parties involved, from English Heritage through to the relevant council and the different transport clients, such as Crossrail, London Underground, Transport for London and Network Rail. They were all involved at Paddington. “It’s not enough to be good architects but it is also about working on multiple levels to keep stakeholders happy and achieve the best value for the budget. It is not only about coming up with the idea but about selling the vision technically and politically. When we are designing infrastructure and associated buildings there are so many stakeholders, so many people try to chip away at the design. You have to have a logical argument and a coherent story for why you designed it that way. It is still the architect who the rest of the team expect to pull the whole project together.” Rob Naybour, Weston Williamson Coming up with a great design that works is only the start. Diplomacy, patience and doggedness are essential skills required to see such projects through in the long haul. It wouldn’t suit every practice, but Weston Williamson enjoys the challenges of such demanding projects. The practice is comfortable with the fact that their hard work on Crossrail is not necessarily about creating iconic architecture, but is creative in other, rather more important ways. At Paddington—where the practice is creating new stations serving Crossrail and London Underground as well as taxi facilities, a new public realm, and commercial development— the key challenge is to integrate with the city and, through a very creative process, make coherent public space work. Rather like Neuilly’s plan of Rome, the space is perhaps more important than the form.

6. The taxi interchange at Paddington creates a new public realm, knitting into the urban fabric.

7. WW+P’s work for Crossrail at Paddington rethinks the underground station, creating a light and airy experience that will feel like an extension of the original Brunel station.


That’s not to say the new station won’t be distinctive. The practice promises a dramatic, light-filled ‘great space’ that responds to Brunel’s Grade I-listed ‘great interior’, topped with an elegant glass canopy that covers a new public realm and gives Paddington a more civic presence than the original. Just as the Victorians led the way and were able to export their technical expertise in railways throughout the empire, many urban and rail design experts from the UK have been instrumental in addressing similar problems in megacities throughout the world.

Lessons from around the world Weston Williamson is convinced that UK designers are leading the world in the reinvention of railways as major public buildings. With the economic downturn in 2008, many UK engineers and architects looked to take their expertise overseas, in particular to the many fastexpanding cities in the Far East such as Kuala Lumpur, Beijing and Jakarta, where the demand for new rail systems was urgent. Unlike London, whose major growth followed the railways, modern Asian cities have typically developed around the motor car. In cities such as Kuala Lumpur, where Weston Williamson has an office, congestion is so severe that two-hour commutes across the city are not unusual, and whole mini-industries have grown up supplying snacks and other services to those stuck in traffic jams. With such pressing problems threatening to impact on productivity, the case for decent urban transit systems is compelling and city authorities are moving swiftly to progress major new rail infrastructure. Fortunately for the practices involved, UK design and engineering expertise is highly valued. In Kuala Lumpur, Weston Williamson is working on the Klang Valley Metro Lines 1 and 2, and has also produced designs for several stations in China, Indonesia and India. Among the many others engaged in Asian transport projects is Terry Farrell, who has worked extensively on rail schemes in Beijing and Guangdong.


8+9. Huddersfield station by James Pigott Pritchett. Victorian stations were deliberately designed with great civic presence.


10. An early sketch of Old Oak Common station for HS2. The design celebrates movement and connectivity and ties into a proposed new masterplan area.

11. Public realm and civic presence are essential components of a modern station. These images show WW+P’s design which transforms the former Departures Road into a humane pedestrian route connecting the Network Rail station with Crossrail.


But the exchange is not entirely one-way. UK designers have learnt valuable lessons from this experience, which can be brought to bear on projects closer to home. New UK infrastructure projects would benefit from the single-mindedness of some of the Far Eastern rail projects in terms of funding certainty, although the very different democratic processes of the UK will call for a different approach. Weston Williamson welcomes these lessons from abroad where there is often a more holistic approach to transport. “We would like to import the decisiveness that we see elsewhere. A clearer investment programme would help deliver projects far more efficiently over here. With that funding certainty, all parties can plan accordingly and we can work more efficiently with an agreed timescale. It also gives greater certainty to the regeneration around stations which in turn helps generate the business case and supports the funding.” Chris Williamson, Weston Williamson

The future Back in the UK, Weston Williamson sees that HS2 can provide the opportunity for more joined-up thinking, in terms of the design of the station and its environments, than was possible on projects such as JLE and Crossrail, where the transport case and development opportunities were only brought together late in the project. The practice is working for HS2 on the design of a 14-platform station at Old Oak Common in West London which will serve as an interchange between the Heathrow Express, Crossrail and Great Western trains. The station will serve as many passengers as Waterloo currently serves. It also sits at the heart of the Park Royal Development Area—a 500ha site identified for 12,000 new homes and 20 million sq ft of office and commercial space. The practice thinks this gives ‘huge’ potential to create a new vibrant quarter of London with a major transport hub at its heart. The practice has also advised on Crewe’s potential to be developed as a HS2 transport hub and is reviewing the HS2 Birmingham, Staffordshire and Leigh, and Manchester airport, and Manchester Piccadilly station proposals.

12. Old Oak Common Station for HS2. WW+P’s extensive masterplanning work demonstrates how the station can sit within the heart of a new place.


13. The opening of WW+P’s DLR Station at London City Airport. Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and MP Karen Buck were joined by Olympians Lord Coe, Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson.


Like its Victorian predecessors, the new rail link could have a considerable impact on the communities that it links. While the faster journey times will improve links with the capital, the larger impact will surely be on attracting investment to the areas around the stations in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. Weston Williamson says the potential is phenomenal. A major injection of infrastructure investment will be an important part of moving the UK towards a stronger regional economy. The Crossrail project recognised and sought to exploit the potential value of over-the-station development and that is likely to continue with HS2, with scope for collaboration with developers on commercial, residential and office developments as an integral part of the scheme. All of the station sites offer fantastic potential to regenerate entire regions and the project is seeking to capture this value. It all demands the holistic approach to both design and funding that Weston Williamson advocates. The design needs to show how a new place can be created around the station that in turn creates value. Railway funding will, in future, need to capture the value of surrounding development through private investment, underwritten by tax receipts or other mechanisms. Crossrail has started this process but it has much more potential for the regeneration of our cities. Generally, the popularity of rail travel is likely to continue as the move away from cars, especially for those living in the cities, continues. Young people in particular aren’t as interested in cars as they once were. Where a new motor might have once been a status symbol for a young urbanite, now it’s more likely to be the right kind of bicycle. Parking restrictions, onerous insurance premiums, congestion charges, as well as cost and environmental concerns, have all made urban motoring far less attractive. There is increasing talk of a ‘peak car’ situation, even in America, with a decline in the average mileage driven by individuals and a fall in car ownership among the young. The electorate in Los Angeles of all places has recently voted for an increase in city tax specifically to tackle public transport. This is an amazing change. Major rail development in the UK will always be a huge challenge, with a historic network plagued with overcrowding, ageing infrastructure, and the complications of franchise and ownership. But the phenomenal growth of cities and urban living means that, nearly 200 years on from its inception, rail remains the future as well as the past.


Willesden Green


Willesden Junction

Old Oak Common


Kilburn Park

Euston St. Pancras

Edgware Road

Edgware Road

King's Cross St. Pancras


Paddington Tottenham Court Road Acton Central

South Acton

Leicester Square Piccadilly Circus

West Brompton

Victoria WW+P

Clapham Junction

Wimbledon Tooting Broadway




Alexandra Palace Turnpike Lane

Tottenham Hale

Seven Sisters

Dalston Junction


Stratford International Stratford

Haggerston Hoxton


Pudding Mill Lane

Stratford High Street Abbey Road West Ham

Shoreditch High Street Whitechapel

Star Lane

Canning Town Shadwell Wapping West India Quay


West Silvertown

Pontoon Duck

London City Airport

King George V

Canada Water London Bridge

Surrey Quays

Woolwich New Cross

Woolwich Arsenal Abbey Wood

New Cross Gate Brockley

14. This map shows the stations across London in which WW+P has been involved in the design and construction: the second great railway age?

Paddington Crossrail & Integrated Project

Pudding Mill Lane DLR Station

Victoria Station Upgrade

15. There are important lessons to be learnt from overseas where ambition and decisiveness often outshine the UK. Stations regenerate communities, as these four sections illustrate. Significant over-site and surrounding development is attracted to increase connectivity. 16. Opposite. WW+P’s proposals for the new high speed rail in Singapore and Malaysia included design for over-site development.

Woolwich Crossrail Station



17. Pudding Mill Lane station for the DLR and Crossrail is critical to the legacy plans for the Olympic Park. As one of the first buildings in the area, the station will provide a focus and set the standard for future developments of the Olympic Park.

Picture Credits: 1. © Royal Holloway College, London University 2. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 3. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 4. © 5. © John Sturrock 6. © Nick Guttridge 7. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 8. © Richard Harvey’s own Image of Huddersfield station by James Pigott Pritchett 9. © lostrailwayswestyorkshire/images201907.jpg (1907) by James Pigott Pritchett 10. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 11. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 12. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 13. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection 14. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 15. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 16. © WestonWilliamson+Partners 17. © Nick Guttridge