diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 18, 2021

Some tube stations really stand out.

This is Blackhorse Road on the outer reaches of the Victoria line. A few years ago you'd have been hard pushed to spot it from a distance, but a cluster of highrise housing has arisen alongside and now you can't miss it. Availability of post-industrial land provided the ideal opportunity to cram in thousands of homes, and all within easy commuting distance of central London, so up it's shot.

The key to explosive upward development is a well-connected station serving an unfulfilled catchment. Here it's because only one side of Blackhorse Road has terraced streets and the other's reservoirs, playing fields and industrial units, with a paucity of residents that's helped make this the least used station on the Victoria line. But in the 21st century that's an opportunity rather than a setback, so come live in Blackhorse Mills, Blackhorse Yard or Blackhorse Point and hey presto, the skyline erupts.

It's happening near me at Bromley-by-Bow, another station stunted by the River Lea with previous development on one side only. But in the 21st century even a small brownfield footprint is a valuable thing, so a strip of land between the river and the A12 is exchanging scrappy businesses for residential accommodation. The old hospital site overlooking platform 1 was first to gain a lofty tower, creating a landmark visible from afar, and a lot more are currently going up across the road.

There ought to be a name for this kind of thing, like Station Focused Development, Highrise Transit Hubs or Modal Landmark Clusters. But where are the best examples in London? I'm thinking particularly of isolated suburban residential peaks that stand out on the horizon, where recent turbo-charged residential development is solely because they have a station at their heart. You can already spot Blackhorse Road and Bromley-by-Bow stations from afar, so where else?

Canning Town definitely qualifies. This is another backwater Lea Valley station dragged screaming into estate agent heaven when the Jubilee line arrived and opened up all that lovely brownfield alongside. It now boasts three separate residential monsters - Hallsville Quarter overlooking the A13, City Island on a bend in Bow Creek and the latest curtain wall alongside Silvertown Way branded the Brunel Street Works. Every available scrap of space matters because excellent connectivity breeds maximum massing, and it's all very obvious from a distance.

Colindale very much counts, a zone 4 outpost that's increasingly reimagined itself as a highrise neighbourhood. This image is from a TfL consultation document for a new station building, and clearly shows a sea of older housing surrounding an island of modern flats. Developers have merrily knocked down loads of old buildings to create a residential peak focused on a Northern line station, I'd say with miserably little character, but it certainly stands out.

North Acton is another candidate, possibly the most demoralising cluster of upward real estate that can be blamed on proximity to a tube station. A grim canyon of flats now greets those alighting from the Central line, some of whom call a small elevated box home. The only bright spot was The Castle pub, which is now to be demolished and replaced by further student towers. The image below shows One West Point, a twin-pronged aberration currently under construction whose tallest building will have 54 storeys and exceed the height of Wembley's arch. Not all Station Focused Development is positive.

Tottenham Hale must be on the list, with an ever growing forest of flats on the Lea-ward flank of the station. Pontoon Dock DLR might also count, its car park recently transformed into taller than average towers. Stratford's sort of got it, although the cluster of mega-towers by the station is diluted somewhat by mega-towers elsewhere. Elephant & Castle's not suburban enough to be a proper example, and I won't be counting Nine Elms either. But Lewisham is very much heading this way, Ilford's trying and Abbey Wood might just tip over.

A century ago in Metro-land swathes of residential avenues were a deliberate consequence of station-building. Today we're filling in the gaps by building upwards where stations have yet to meet their full potential. If you can see it from a distance, the developers have already triumphed.

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