diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 18, 2021

It's now 29 months since Crossrail was due to open but didn't.
Let's see how the three stations in the West End are progressing.

It's nine years since the taxi rank was removed from Eastbourne Terrace and work began on creating a new western entrance to Paddington station. It's nearly ready and you can sort of walk around it, but the Crossrail portal is still barriered off because there are no trains to catch.

An enormous black canopy has appeared, running most of the length of the street, designed to cover the bank of escalators leading down to the Crossrail ticket hall. The skeleton was there last time I looked so what's new is the glass that forms the roof and also the view down into the escalator chasm. The barriers at pavement level had recently been shifted far enough back to allow me to walk underneath the edge of the glass canopy and look up, and also to peer through the mesh and look down. It was odd seeing open air escalators descending into the depths, and odd seeing a giant rod spanning the gap to keep the two sides stable, and odd being able to see a bit of platform 1 on the far side. Passengers can already enter the mainline station this way, i.e. round the back of the escalators past a bank of departure boards (Hayes & Harlington... Penzance... Heathrow Term 5).

I was unexpectedly disappointed by the work of art on the glass canopy. It's called A Cloud Index and consists of a detailed cloudscape the length of a football pitch printed in white ceramic onto the glass. The artist Spencer Finch arranged 60 pastel drawings from cirrus at one end to altostratus at the other with the aim of giving passengers ascending the escalators something ethereal to look up at. Alas closer up the clouds look too much like drawings and not convincingly natural, indeed more like something a large flock of pigeons might have deposited on the glass. This interpretation was strengthened during my visit by the sight of a squad of workmen in orange hi-vis standing on the roof and jetwashing it, which I guess is a regular necessity to get rid of any genuine guano. I reserve the right to change my mind once I've seen the full panorama from the foot of the escalators, however, whenever that may be.

Bond Street has always been the fly in the Crossrail ointment, way behind schedule due to prolonged contractual problems. So it was surprising and yet not at all surprising when I took a look at the western entrance and it still absolutely wasn't ready.

All the other central London Crossrail stations have their walls intact but not Bond Street which from this angle continues to resemble a concrete slab supported by windswept pillars. Nothing says "what the hell were they thinking when they said Crossrail would open in 2018?" better than this 2021 snapshot. Bond Street is actually one of two stations not yet to have reached Staged Completion 3 (SC3) status, the other surprisingly being Canary Wharf which had always looked like it was furthest ahead of the rest.

Things didn't look much better over on Gilbert Street where the same unclad concrete lump I saw last time continues to despoil the backroads of Mayfair. Admittedly I didn't venture across to the station's new eastern entrance on Hanover Square to see how that was getting on, and that might be tip-top complete by now, but somehow I doubt it.

TCR's doing a lot better, indeed it recently became the third central station (after Custom House and Farringdon) to be handed over to TfL. The escalators leading down from the remodelled tube station have been waiting behind hoardings for some time, and the platforms were deemed substantial enough three years ago to allow visitors down for an Open Day. So what really struck me on my latest visit was outside, specifically how much of the new building above the ticket hall is now complete. It's going to be called Soho Place, a so-called "destination to work, shop and play", and I was surprised how architecturally uninteresting it was. Its drab facade is a jagged edifice of mostly windows, as yet neither finished nor clad, but I've seen the artist's impression of the finished building and it doesn't get any more characterful.

Meanwhile the Dean Street entrance has been ready for three years, pretty much, even if it originally resembled a bland black box from the outside. Again the big change here is the building on top, now several storeys high, because it was always in the playbook to monetise the space above the station entrance. What's unusual is that it's going to be flats rather than offices, and luxury flats at that (which admittedly is less of a shock). The development's called TCRW SOHO and offers investors hotel-style living overlooking Oxford Street in a building covered with dark reconstituted stone and gold decorative panelling.

It'll look gaudy and vile, but only 92 people have to think it attractive and that's £140m sorted.

But for £2.40 you'll be able to walk in underneath, eventually, and experience the dazzling ticket hall that leads down to a world of purple possibility. Sometime in the first half of 2022, they say, and who knows this time they may finally be right.

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