diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 06, 2011

It's taken me a while to visit London's newest street. So long in fact that it probably isn't London's newest street any more. King's Boulevard, in the freshly-minted postcode of N1C, was quietly unveiled back in September. It's currently a road with one main purpose - to help students get to college - but soon to be rather more important than that. It's also the first road across the former railway lands north of King's Cross, or at least the first since they demolished all that was here before and started again. What used to be here included Battle Bridge Road, a terrace of tall Victorian brick buildings (and the setting for 1955 film The Ladykillers). All gone, flattened, erased... and now King's Boulevard curves through instead.

The street starts by the German Gymnasium, at the nexus where the re-aligned King's Cross will face the revamped St Pancras. The GG was London's first purpose-built gymnasium, now nearly a century and a half old, and will be the only building on King's Boulevard dating from pre-2012. For now the road has a pair of pavements squeezed between low hoardings, behind which construction work of an urgent nature is proceeding. At least one of the buildings beyond is scheduled for next Spring, although you wouldn't guess while all the digging remains at foundation level. A series of oversize postcards depict what Two, Four and Six Pancras Square will look like, and quite frankly it's nothing to get excited about. Make the most of the uphill stroll now, with distant glimpses of architectural character, because eventually this'll be a deep glass canyon of bog-standard offices and mixed use units.

A vast regeneration project is afoot, courtesy of developers Argent. It's taken years to get this far, and only a smidgeon of the eventual 67 acres is yet opened up. Someone in the project team has brightened up the hoardings on the eastern pavement with a series of stories, detailing the area's history and its future potential. Some of these are deeply interesting, some geographically misplaced, and some guilty of appalling hyperbole. If you're the copywriter who wrote the drivel about KX shopping ("Look in vain for Man at C&A; as fresh and locally sourced as the food is the fashion") I'd give up the day job now before you inflict cerebral injury on anyone else.

Partway up King's Boulevard is a giant Underground roundel, marking the spot where yet another entrance to King's Cross St Pancras tube station will one day open. Presumably this is so that offices built hereabouts can charge higher rents because they have convenient adjacent access to a key transport portal. In reality, however, this entrance will be at least two subterranean minutes from the new Northern Ticket Hall, which itself is at least three subterranean minutes from any train, probably more. It beggars belief how far tube travellers are asked to walk at KXStP, and the new Pancras Square entrance will make things even more cruelly worse.

More tempting, from Wednesdays to Fridays only, a new-wave street food zone pops up in front of the mural by the traffic lights. If you're not familiar with such kerbside-stall delicacies, we're talking stuff like burritos, noodles and pulled pork - nothing mundane and British. Friday's line-up included Big Apple Hot Dogs (who come from Old Street, but pretend not to) and Hardcore Prawn (who deal in Asian fusion, obviously). I imagine the lunchtime crowds are mostly arts students and Guardian journalists, both of whom are based nearby, although there's nowhere especially tasteful to sit and eat your purchase, yet, in this windswept building site.

Next up, beyond Goods Way, is a new bridge across the Regent's Canal. This is sorely needed because one of the old warehouses on the opposite bank has opened up as Central St Martin's University of the Arts, and the students and staff need a way in and out. The relocated university is now based in the Granary building, one of several listed buildings on the northern half of the site to survive Argent's blitzkrieg renewal. It looks impressively Victorian on the outside and (once through the entrance lobby, reception and visitor centre) impressively modern on the inside. The architects have tacked the shiny glass onto the old brickwork with panache, in a lofty four-level space of workshops, studios and lecture theatres. Lucky students, so long as they don't mind being surrounded by fenced-off construction for their first year.

Give it time and further historic structures will be opened up - the Coal Drops, the Goods Shed, the Fish and Coal Office - plus a large public space leading down to the canalside. Oh yes, King's Boulevard is only the start, there's an entire new London neighbourhood waiting to spring into life here. Still hard to imagine, while there's only one college and one road, but undoubtedly unstoppable.

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