Crossrail’s family affair

London’s big, bold Crossrail project has given birth to a striking new family of surface railway stations in the western suburbs of the capital. Ray Philpott looks at the two busiest of them – Ealing Broadway and Hayes and Harlington – to see how a common design approach can be applied in different environments

Crossrail is one of Europe’s biggest and most technically challenging infrastructure projects and will deliver a huge boost to London’s hard-pressed transport system when it becomes fully operational in 2019. As the line’s engineers and constructors slowly burrow their way beneath the historic heart of London, the central section and its swathe of 10 new underground stations tends to grab the limelight. Yet the vast majority of this railway is actually above ground, with 30 existing surface stations along the route – from Abbey Wood and Shenfield at its eastern end to Heathrow Airport and Reading in the west. The majority are being upgraded to accommodate the new services, but in the western suburbs of London five completely new station buildings have been designed by London architects Bennetts Associates for client Network Rail. Each will be operated by Transport for London. This feature focuses on the larger Ealing Broadway and Hayes and Harlington stations, but their smaller siblings at Southall, Acton Mainline and West Ealing share the same principles of form and function.

Common themes

The architects set out to create a clearly identifiable family of buildings that, at the same time, form distinctive focal points within their own public realms. Studio Director David Laing explains:

“Our remit is to design the station buildings and booking halls. The canopies, footbridges, stairs shelters and other platform-level structures are Network Rail’s responsibility. These utilise highly cost-effective and practical modular designs to shorten installation times and minimise disruption to passengers.

He adds:

“Essentially we‘ve created a series of glazed pavilions – steel-structured buildings with lots of angles – with the idea of getting as much transparency and light into the public space as we can. Moving through stations is all about clarity and seeing where you are supposed to be going. From each forecourt you can see in to the ticket office and the stairs to the platforms beyond.”

In one aspect, the designs have been influenced by one aspect of Charles Holden’s celebrated, 1920s Art Deco station designs on the London Underground’s Piccadilly and Northern lines.

“Holden designed tall structures with large areas of high glazing. Similarly we’ve created double-height steel-framed buildings with lots of clear glass, designed to glow like lanterns at night – thanks to carefully located LED downlights and washes of light beaming up from the ground.”

Each station has a signature projecting roof to the front and across the board, station signage comprises a large white font mounted directly onto clear glazing, giving the impression that it is almost floating in mid-air.

Grand entrance

Even before Crossrail arrives, Ealing Broadway is a bustling station – a terminus for the Central and District underground lines and served by main-line commuter services to Paddington and Heathrow Airport. Yet, since the 1970s the station entrance has been a small, nondescript affair at the bottom of an old tower block – a far cry from the grand, triple-towered Great Western Railway station building it replaced. Now, says Laing, the station will again become a highly visible landmark, thanks to its most striking feature – a huge canopy, reminiscent of a gigantic aircraft wing that runs along the full front of the glass and steel station and beyond. Laing outlines the problems he and his team faced.

“We’re essentially redeveloping an existing station location to enhance a townscape that’s never really worked well. This was difficult to co-ordinate because although it’s a public space, different parts are owned by different people. Aesthetically, the main challenge was that you couldn’t see the station entrance from the actual Broadway. It’s set back from the rows of shops and restaurant on ether side, and is almost apologetically buried away.”

In contrast, the vast new canopy boldly links the flanking buildings directly with the station. It features a wooden clad underside to soften the features and add natural colour to the station forecourt.

“It is uplit from LEDs positioned on the grey metal columns that support it and this light is also reflected back down on to the forecourt,” adds Laing.

A number of glass-fronted retail units face into the booking hall, and to the side of the entrance is a vibrant new ‘destination’ cafe. The tower block entrance at ground level is independently being remodelled to bring about visual improvements complimenting the development.

“Inside, the light, bright booking hall is top-lit by glazed rooflights that extend from the canopy right the way through to the barriers,” Laing says. “The walls are clad with perforated bronze-coloured panels and we have suggested commissioning an artist to incorporate images and textures on some of them.”

Work on the station begins late summer and will be completed by 2017 while the frontage will be landscaped with appropriate security features by the local authority. “We feel we’re bringing back a grand entrance to the station and restoring the sort of commanding street presence it deserves.

Unified design

Further west, Bennetts Associates’ new Hayes and Harlington station design faced the challenge of having two entrances at very different levels. For more than 130 years the main and official passenger entrance was at high level via the official, low-key, booking office on the road bridge running over the lines. Following a revamp a few years back, an additional entrance was created at platform-level via Station Approach, a cul-de-sac formerly used to access the station’s once extensive goods yards and parcels services. The original, 1860s-built GWR red brick and stone building on London-bound platform four – once housing toilets, waiting rooms, and storage – was converted to a formal entrance waiting room and ticket office. However, passengers could still enter via the flat, modern 1960s station building on the bridge. The new glass and steel station has drastically simplified things by smoothly incorporating entrances at both the bridge and lower level as part of a single and clearly unified building with the main ticket hall at bridge level. The distinctive triangular building separating the roads the entrances are on is being retained. The new station and coffee shop is actually being built to the side of the current buildings, on the site of a low-rise 1960s block that’s being demolished, giving the town an iconic, modern, high-profile transport facility in place of the largely compromised existing one.

“The split access levels were quite a difficult issue to tackle, because they are quite dramatic,” explains Laing.

“The local authority, Hillingdon Council, was keen for us to make full use of the bridge entrance as the surrounding public realm is being redeveloped. Large numbers of people from various new residential developments nearby are expected to use this entrance. The plans for the public realm around the station are extensive and the council is very enthusiastic about it.

“Bearing that in mind, we felt the best way to make Hayes and Harlington work was to create a grand external staircase and install a step-free lift at the lower level to reach the bridge-level ticket hall and platform gates. We’ve made the lift access into a feature. He added: “The pedestrian flows at the station are tricky because they come from two directions. Using pedestrian flow models we placed the ticket barriers away from the bridge entrance to give people plenty of space to negotiate the area and the models show that it works.” Inside the spacious ticket hall, bronze cladding has been used to add colour and a light-coloured, high quality limestone flooring, with same finish extends through to the wide external staircase.”

Within the station area safety glass and stainless steel balustrades convey a sense of spaciousness and transparency.

“The station is well lit inside and out, mainly using uplighters,” explains Laing.

“A unique feature is that the LED lighting can change to a wide range of different colours. Hillingdon Council wanted the station to be lit in different ways to reflect various community festivals and events at different times of the year.

“We’ve provided a coffee shop at the front on the bridge, designed as an integral part of the station, featuring al fresco seating to liven up the area and give it a pleasant ambience.”

One historic feature from the original 19th century station building has survived. The red-brick platform entrance building is making way for the new structure. the original brick and brick coursing from the historic station wall is being re-used to form a free-standing wall separating the trains and platforms from the low-level entrance and forecourt.

Laing says:

“It was clear people liked the old building, so it made sense to incorporate it as a feature in the new building. It has good brickwork with nice stone detailing at the window heads. So, as you look along Station Approach you‘ll still see the familiar elevation of the old station building, but in a different location. “It’s good to keep such a tangible link to the station’s past, but when Crossrail arrives, a clean, modern transport facility is what people will appreciate most.”