A new vision for the grande dame of Victorian rail

Jay Merrick takes a tour of the elegant concourse to be unveiled at King's Cross

Since the station's entrance was tacked on to it in 1972, King's Cross in London has presented travellers with an oppressive black canopy and a vile scrum-space of a concourse. It may be in keeping with the area's grotty reputation, but it hardly fills passengers with hope or joy. That will soon change, however, with the unveiling of the station's new western concourse.

Designed by John McAslan + Partners, its 140-metre wide canopy is Europe's largest single-span station structure, a fine fusion of architecture and engineering, on the part of Arup, that barely touches the Grade I-listed western façade of the 159-year-old station. This is unquestionably the most innovative piece of British transport architecture since Stansted airport in 1991, and Waterloo's Eurostar terminal in 1993.

The elegant concourse – the key element of Network Rail's £400m modernisation of the station – marks not only its main approach, but the threshold of the £2bn King's Cross Central regeneration zone north of the station, where 67 acres of brownfield land is being redeveloped to create offices, retail and thousands of new homes.

John McAslan gave me a tour of the site. "It's a great democratic space," he said, looking out from the mezzanine balcony at the wave-like glass and steel canopy.

"It's historically democratic, too – something of the 21st century, meeting 21st-century needs, that revitalises a really great piece of 19th-century railway architecture. When the new square in front is completed, the station will be a real public place, not just a terminus."

Standing on the parapet of the station's main façade, above the two vast train-shed vaults designed by Lewis Cubitt in 1852, the relationship between old and new is striking: solar cells crown the train-sheds; a few feet away, a restoration specialist re-points Cubitt's bricks with lime mortar; and, up a steep, narrow staircase in the station's central tower, we enter a musty room with a grimy clock mechanism worthy of Heath Robinson. Below us, in a space the size of a grand Victorian ballroom that will become the new ticket hall, the clunkily ornate original iron wall brackets are being cleaned.

But it's the new concourse that will dominate King's Cross. It is six times bigger than current space and the canopy creates a new 150-metre wide approach to the station that has the feel of an airport terminal.

The concourse design is a triumph of determination over constraints. McAslan and Arup had to find a way to prop the canopy's 1,200-ton glass and steel structure on 17 individual points without any risk to the fabric of the station, or the Underground concourse and lines beneath it.

They've pulled it off, with English Heritage watching closely – and at the same time while consulting 16 stakeholders at one of London's busiest and most complex road, rail and Underground junctions.

Network Rail is to be applauded for commissioning such an adventurous design, a super-crisp brand for the modernisation of the station that will be completed before the start of the 2012 Olympics.

John McAslan: Profile of the architect

John McAslan, 54, is the archetypal can-do architect, generating a shock-wave of endless emails, texts, indecipherably scribbled instructions – and strong design. Until the King's Cross project, his practice was best known for outstanding transformations of important listed buildings such as the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and the London Roundhouse.

Raised in Argyll and the US, he trained at Edinburgh University and set up his practice in 1996 after working for Richard Rogers. He and his original partner, Jamie Troughton, were the first British architects to design a building at Canary Wharf; another early breakthrough project was the Apple headquarters in Stockley Park, Uxbridge. John McAslan + Partners has been British practice of the year four times, most recently in 2009. His team has proved adept in major urban and education projects, and pioneering schemes in Malawi, Haiti, India, and Turkey. McAslan's restoration of the earthquake-shattered Iron Market in Port-au-Prince made him the profession's Indiana Jones.

McAslan, pictured, is famed for not being able to leave things alone, and his pro bono projects have arisen from this trait.

Jay Merrick

Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker