It's not. Square, that is. The new public space in front of King's Cross station is more of a triangular wedge with curved bits. But they call it King's Cross Square, presumably for its piazza-like qualities, and it reopened yesterday. [7 photos]
I say reopened. In fact the façade at the front of King's Cross has been blocked for the best part of a century and a half, most recently by the big greenshed housing the station concourse. You remember that, it had a Smiths and a Burger King and long board with all the train departures on and a lot of people standing around wondering when they'd ever get to Newcastle. All gone, and in its place a broad paved public space open to the elements. I think it's a big improvement.
The transformation's been made possible by the opening last year of the new western concourse with its amazing latticed geyser roof. More space to wait, a better selection of shops and eateries to browse, and a full whack of awe factor for good measure. But that's just the entrance. Passengers exiting the mainline are instead directed straight ahead through the arches at the front of the station and out into the new square. They've been able to do this for a while, yesterday wasn't the first day of access. But it was the first day the majority of the square has been barrier-free, with workmen cleared off elsewhere and the public swarming willy-nilly.
There is a great deal of open space, more than I might have expected. The front of Euston is a catering zone, the front of St Pancras is a taxi drop-off, but the front of King's Cross is all yours. That space is needed for circulation, given that platforms exit almost directly onto the square. But there are also plenty of places to sit, these on blocky chunks of granite lined up near the exit and close to the Euston Road. Simple and convenient, and (I suspect) an integral part of making the station terrorist-in-a-car-proof. All too often seats around stations are restricted to those belonging to cafes and restaurants, so it's refreshing to have proper public provision here.
There are cafes and restaurants, obviously, it's just that they haven't opened yet. A Giraffe Kiosk has sprouted nearer the road inside a circular drum, but at present its windows and doors remain covered. Posters promise Hot Pots and Global Salads To Go, if that's your thing, plus Espressos and Extra Thick Shakes. It's also linked via a short covered walkway to an entrance to the tube station, but that's currently closed too. At present it's only possible to descend from the piazza to the underground via one bank of staircases, not the eventual three, which means most passengers are being sent via a more roundabout route than is necessary.
What was strange to see on day one was how many people were walking through like the square had always been here. They trooped through from traffic lights to ticket barrier. They hugged a loved one and wandered off trailing a suitcase. They slouched on the stone benches and consulted their phones. They checked departure times on screens embedded in a series of electronic monoliths. OK, so some people had a sense of occasion and were pausing to point or take a photo, but they were few in number. Overnight King's Cross Square has become part of the status quo, and hurrah for that.
Had you been outside King's Cross yesterday morning, you'd have heard Boris spouting about how marvellous it all is and setting off some fireworks from the roof. The project's been running much longer than he's been Mayor, and still has further to go before the entire frontage is pristine. But yesterday was a proper milestone in the redevelopment of this great station, finally returning almost everywhere to the surrounding community. Wait long enough, have faith, and London really does get better.