London has a new square. Actually more of a nibbled triangle, King's Cross Square opened this morning, bringing to an end four years of redevelopment at the mainline station. We wandered across at 10am, just after the morning's opening ceremony.
The square was already busy, with people moving in all directions. Yet the space is big enough to accommodate large numbers without feeling too crowded. Even when the station debouches a trainload of passengers, the space copes well. This being the first day, plenty of people were out with cameras, and a sizeable security presence was also evident.
It's a rather colourless space: grey stones, black ventilation shafts, dark benches. The lack of tones is rather neat, however, as it draws the eye to the yellow Victorian brickwork, putting the station frontage at centre stage where it belongs. Four silver columns rise into the air, carrying lighting for the square. Necessary clutter during the day, but vital after dark. At their base, you'll find a series of electronic boards with useful information on tube delays.
The square is purposely light on trees — both to allow uninterrupted crowd movement, and because the square sits right above the Circle Line, ruling out ground-planted trees over much of the space. Two small planting areas are present, however. Five slim plane trees nestle near the granite benches in the south-east corner, while a grove of rowan trees and a few planters brighten up the western edge. As usual with these developments, there's not a single waste bin to be found, and we had to cross the road to discard our morning cappuccino cup.
The station itself looks handsome indeed. The replacement glazing of the front windows and roof sparkles in the morning sun. The deleted green canopy, which blighted the station front for decades, is like an unsightly cyst finally excised. A much smaller grey canopy now clings to the brickwork, providing shelter for arrivals without intruding too much on the architecture.
The work is not quite finished. The western end is still cordoned off, and a work team were fiddling with the tree bases. A small, central area for food kiosks is yet to open. But the new square already feels like a welcome addition to the area. The station can finally breathe after years of construction, and decades of cramped architecture. Some may find trivial gripes here and there, but King's Cross is now incomparably grander and more pleasant to visit than at any point in living memory. The project teams who planned and developed first the new concourse and station improvements, and now the new square should be congratulated on a job well done.
The Square will become a Victorian Carnival over the weekend of 28-29 September 2013. Details here.