King’s Cross, Camden, is one of many pieces of a puzzle which form the cosmopolitan city known as London.It is a complex site, with intriguing historical layers and an alluring theme of “presence of the past”. This essayseeks to unravel a small fraction of the city and to investigate and critically discuss how Pancras Square,King’s Cross, has been redeveloped, and to understand the complexities of its historical context.
“The cityhas the power to obscure as well as to mesmerise; the unparalleled tangle of experience over such a longperiod of time becomes impossible to unravel, at least in one telling or from one perspective”. Jeremy Black,London a History1.”Londonium”, established as a strategic trading and communications node during the mid-first century AD bythe Roman emperor Julius Caesar, saw the growth of London’s ports and the success of its harbours. Duringthe 5th century, under Saxon rule, trade collapsed as the prosperous port of “Lundenwic”2 was over-run byViking raiders . In a bid to protect themselves, communities moved within the ancient Roman Wall (Figure1). It is here where we begin to see modern growth of London’s shipping industry, with the expansion of thedocks in the 1800s.1.
Jeremy Black, London a History ( Lancaster, Carnegie Publishing Ltd : 2009 ) 1.2.Hugh Clout, London History Atlas (London: Times UK, 1991),23.
3.Jeremy Black, London a History ( Lancaster, Carnegie Publishing Ltd : 2009 ) 2.4.King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’The Granary Building’ , December 2017, accessed 20th December 2017, https://www.kingscross.co.uk/granaryHere you can see the buttressed walls surroundingthe city of “Londonium” and the first ever largetransport bridge.
As you can see the river is muchwider than it is today and the terrain wilder, consistingof wetlands and farmland.3The canal at King’s Cross enabled trade for thousandsof years, from the Roman Era right through to the Firstand Second World Wars; during its last 140 yearsof industrial use, the canal transported buildingsmaterials, coal and luxuries, such as bottled beerand exotic fruit.The Granary Building ( Figure 2 ) ,now known asthe University of the Arts, Central St Martins, wasused as storage for goods carried along the canal,and Granary Square, formally known as the GoodsYard Complex, was constructed so that the buildingsaligned with the Copenhagen tunnel, in which trainstravelling from the North of England would arrive.
Figure 2 – The GranaryBuilding, constructedduring the mid-1800s.Here we see the canalthriving with trade andtransport4.02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595URBAN STUDIESAR30093 | Architectural History & Theory 3.2 | 2017-18The Great Northern Railway established their terminus at King’s Cross between 1849 and 18525 and at asimilar time, The Metropolitan Railway, the first underground rail service, was also completed. Links betweenthe canals and the railways were used to transport goods. The rail industry thrived until the end of the SecondWorld War, where it suffered rapid decline. King’s Cross became a partially abandoned industrial site, and asa consequence, the local community suffered. The loss of trade resulted in the increase of the low-incomehouseholds& increased unemployment to those working in the area, and as result, an increase in ill health,poverty, drug abuse and crime.
During the 1980s, the area was a topic of scandal, and was referred to asLondon’s “Red-Light District”. Although suffering a period of decline, due to the low cost of accommodation inthe area, artists and creatives were able to move into the area, steadily re-energising what was once a thrivingcommunity & area of trade. Attempted improvement through environmental projects such as Camley StreetNatural Park sought to improve the area, with further large investment made in transport infrastructure during20016 , such as the restoration and extension of St Pancras railway station and the start of construction of theChannel tunnel. The eventual opening of the St Pancras International Terminus, which acted as a catalyst forchange in the area, invited further development and rejuvenation.There are what I believe to be three key time periods which have resulted in the development of King’s Crossover the past 20 years. The height of its success during the industrial revolution where trade via railway andcanal gave the site purpose and life, is decline post World War Two after de-industrialisation, containerisation,the “road boom” and Nationalisation, & finally, its redevelopment and growth over the last 20 years, catalysedby the construction work on the Channel Tunnel in 20017 and the redevelopment of St Pancras Station.
The outline planning permission for the project was granted in 20068 ; prepared by Allies and Morrison &Prophyrios Associates. The King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership, originally the only land owner on thesite, consisting of a partnership between London and Continental Railways, DHL & Argent. A key strategyenabling the success of King’s Cross as we see it today, was made in 20119 , when Central Saint Martins, aworld-renowned art & design school & branch of University of the Arts London, moved into the former GoodsYard Complex, thus opening the site partially to the public. Over time, the development has become home to”affordable housing”, offices, restaurants, museums and more.Pancras square ( Figures 10 and 11 ), formally a busy industrial brownfield site, used for railway yards andto house gas containers, is now home to the architecture of several giants, such as David Chipperfield, Alliesand Morrisons & Eric Parry.
5. King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’The History of King’s Cross’, December 2017, accessed 20th December 2017,https://www.kingscross.co.
uk/history-kings-cross-area6. King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’The History of King’s Cross’, December 2017, accessed 20th December 2017,https://www.kingscross.co.uk/history-kings-cross-area7.King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’The History of King’s Cross’, December 2017, accessed 20th December 2017,https://www.
kingscross.co.uk/history-kings-cross-area8..King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’The Story so Far’, December 2017, accessed 22nd December 2017,https://www.kingscross.
co.uk/thestory-so-far9..King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’The Story so Far’, December 2017, accessed 22nd December 2017,https://www.
kingscross.co.uk/thestory-so-far02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595URBAN STUDIESAR30093 | Architectural History & Theory 3.2 | 2017-18Figure 310 and 411 ( shown left to right) – Figure 3 is an Ordinance Survey Map from 1957.
The red shadingindicates the approximate location of Pancras Square. Figure 4 is a satellite view of Pancras Square today.Neighbouring these private office buildings, you then have the contrast of Camden’s new public building, 5Pancras Square, a multi-purpose building, with library, leisure & fitness centre, café and also accommodationallowing the building to act as the Camden Boroughs headquarters. Gradually, through the restoration of itsformer historic buildings, we see the running theme of “present of the past”. The development at Pancrassquare ( Figure 5), has 2 main historic points of interest, The German Gymnasium and the Stanley Building.
Today, the German Gymnasium is one of D & D London’s many luxury restaurants, however in its formerglory, it was the heart of British gymnastics and the first purpose build gymnasium, completed in 186512.The Stanley Building, once one of five blocks, was one of London’s first social housing buildings. The OfficeGroup, otherwise known as “TOG”, have redeveloped the building for office use and events.10.King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’Historical Maps of the Kings Cross Area’, December 2017, Accessed 22nd December 2017, https://www.kingscross.co.
uk/media/Historical-Maps-of-Area.pdf11. Google, ‘Pancras Square’, Google Maps, December 2017, Accessed 22nd December 2017, https://www.
email@example.com,-0.1277935,763m/data=!3m1!1e312.King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership ,’The History of King’s Cross’, December 2017, accessed 22nd December 2017,https://www.
King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership,’DIY Walking Tour’, December 2017, accessed 22nd December 2017, https://www.kingscross.co.uk/walking-tourToday, King’s Cross is a large, mix – useddevelopment, consisting of its key hubs, King’s Cross& St Pancras Station, Granary Square, PancrasSquare & its parks such as Gasholder park.It Is difficult to analyse the entire outcome of thedevelopment, as it continues today, however we cananalyse the work completed thus far, in-particular thedevelopment of the buildings in the area of Pancrassquare.
Figure 513 – A tourist map taken from the King’s Crosswebsite, illustrating Pancras Squares central positionin the redevelopment .02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595URBAN STUDIESAR30093 | Architectural History & Theory 3.2 | 2017-18Sir Thomas More was the first person to utilise the word “Utopia” in 151614 , a word which would then goonto influence future generations of architects and designers to define the “best” way in which to organisespace, creating the most desirable urban landscapes; which would theoretically outstand time itself. In manyrespects, Pancras Square and the King’s Cross site as a whole, have been designed to the same ideals ofthat of the “Utopian” cities. Although, it may appear that King’s Cross has the potential to surpass the great”Utopian” cities as described and planned by the likes of Le Corbusier, Alberti and Filareti, as the planningof King’s Cross considers the evolution of the city, and the change of which time brings. Meyerson writes”the creator of the utopia selects a few principles on which his desirable future society pivots; these mayrefer to certain social institutions or certain conditions in the physical environment”15.
It is here where we seegreat similarities in the design of King’s Cross to that of the laws of the utopian architect. In the planning ofKing’s Cross, social institutions, such as the integration of the University of the Arts London, have created thefulcrum of which the development now leans on. In particular, where in many cases we see the privatisationof land and gentrification and therefore the disassociation of the local community to the developed land, wesee here that in Pancras square, the local council have been brought into the centre of the development,in close proximity to the newly developed housing, offices and educational facilities, therefore enabling thesocial integration of the development with the growing site and the surrounding area. Moreover, the physicalconditions of the development have been of great importance throughout its planning. High profile architects(such as Eric Parry and David Chipperfield in Pancras Square), have been involved in the design process,creating a high quality urban space. Furthermore, the theme of openness has played a major part in thedesign of the masterplan, “with over 40% of the land allocated as public open space”16 . Landscaped spacesare integrated heavily across the site.
On a visit to King’s Cross with Willerby Landscapes, I was fortunateenough to see the landscaped gardens on the roofs of the buildings in Pancras Square (Figure 617). Whilstwalking in the square one can sense the buzz and life of the development, especially in the green spacedesigned by Townsend Landscape Architects, which creates a relaxing, yet functional space for the peopleworking in the encompassing buildings or simply passing through (Figure 718) . The idea of King’s Cross asa utopian area of the city, is in a way a halfway point between Le Corbusier’s idea of utopia and Wright’s.Wright’s model of “Broadacre City” and the society named “Usonia” envisage a city where open green spaceis inhabited by museums and universities.
Wright believed that “the fusion of town and country would beaccomplished by the diffusion of city functions throughout the land”19 , Le Corbusier’s utopia suggesting amore industrial concentrated space. The natural dense physiology and nature of London along side carefulplanning and public open space; inhabited with social institutions, museums and the railway, therefore createsa combination of the two Utopias.14.Martin Meyerson, ‘Utopian Traditions and The Planning of Cities’ , Daedalus 90. ( 1961 ) 180.15.Martin Meyerson, ‘Utopian Traditions and The Planning of Cities’ , Daedalus 90.
( 1961 ) 181.16.Landsend Landscape Architects, ‘ Pancras Square, King’s Cross’ , accessed 4th January 2018, http://www.townshendla.com/projects/pancrassquare-kings-cross-78/17.Own Image, taken June 2017.18.
Landsend Landscape Architects, ‘ Pancras Square, King’s Cross ‘ , accessed 4th January 2018, http://www.townshendla.com/projects/pancrassquare-kings-cross-78/19.Martin Meyerson, ‘Utopian Traditions and The Planning of Cities’, Daedalus 90. (1961 ) 189.02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595URBAN STUDIESAR30093 | Architectural History & Theory 3.2 | 2017-18Figure 617 – The view of the canal from the roof gardens of Eric Parry’s building in Pancras Square.
Figure 718 – The view of the Townshend Landscape Architecture’s ‘Open Room’ space at the centre of PancrasSquare. Tranquillity pools, grassed areas and tree create a relaxing continental atmosphere.02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595URBAN STUDIESAR30093 | Architectural History & Theory 3.2 | 2017-18The rich heritage of the site is fundamental to the success of the development at King’s Cross. Even in earlyforms of communities in London, transport has always been at the heart of their success, especially in thisexample.
From transporting animals across wooden trackways over marshes, to the mass transport of coalalong railroads from the North; the transportation system of the railway and the canals has been the life bloodof King’s Cross. One of the principles on which Le Corbusier based his ideal city was, “”a city made for speedis a city made for success.” The railway road station stood at the centre of the city, like the hub of a wheel,linked to subways, buses, and other transportation facilities…”20 . Le Corbusier also writes however “Theanachronistic persistence of the original skeleton of the city paralyzes its growth”21 . Although the railway andthe canal are not used in the same way as they were previously in British history, and whilst the restorationof the existing buildings has had their impediments, their cultural significance has positively shaped thedevelopment of the site; their skeleton merely enhancing the urban landscape.
For example, the restorationof the German Gymnasium and the Stanley Building at Pancras Square has created a cultural and historicrichness and an “overarching identity that is not easy to achieve in major new-build developments”22 .Additionally, the Modernist principles of Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter in “Collage City” can be seen in thedevelopment of King’s Cross. Whilst the site joins cohesively as part of the jigsaw puzzle that is London,it also has its own distinct character.
Rowe “advocates the compartmentalisation of the city into a seriesof overlaid “collage” elements…the city of Rowe and Koetter then, become a series of episodes, invitingthe participation of designers and developers at a variety of smaller scales who can insert projects into thelarger patchwork”23 . This is evident in King’s Cross by the large list of architects and landscape architectswho are involved in the projects, and the varying scales of the different projects occurring across the site.Pancras square is a part of the patchwork that forms King’s Cross, and even here in this comparativelysmall area of land, we see the variety of different designers, such as Eric Parry, David Chipperfield, WillerbyLandscapes, Allies and Morrison, Townsend Landscape etc. Moreover, we see this modernist approach inthe way the development has been phased across time, and the way it which it is capable of adapting withthe advances of technology, the pressures of the financial climate and also the changing requirements ofthe local community. The success of the implementation of the masterplan has been due to its flexibility andthe ability of the King’s Cross Partnership to “respond to changing circumstances and adapt to opportunitiespresented by investors”24 . Pancras Square is a continental style business orientated “collage” element ofKing’s Cross as a whole, due to its high-end work spaces and restaurants.The square inevitably invites Tourists to visit, with its close proximity to the British Library, St PancrasInternational and the varying array of museums which celebrate the local artistic culture and historic past.
However, through interpreting the key ideals of the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership, tourism doesnot play the leading role in this area of this site, however, will be of great importance in the design of “CoalsDrop Yard”, a canal side location in the site, which will most definitely become a popular tourist spot, due toits cobbled streets and exciting new retail buildings.20. Martin Meyerson, ‘Utopian Traditions and The Planning of Cities’, Daedalus 90. (1961 ) 188.21.
Le Corbusier, ‘ The City of To-morrow and its Planning’ ( New York: Dover Publications, 2013) 84.22.Ruth Slavid, ‘A Walk Around King’s Cross’ ( London : AJ Publications, 2014 ) 7.
23.Larice and Macdonald, Michael and Elizabeth, The Urban Design Reader , ( Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013) 179.24.Ruth Slavid, ‘A Walk Around King’s Cross’ ( London : AJ Publications, 2014 ) 10.02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595URBAN STUDIESAR30093 | Architectural History & Theory 3.2 | 2017-18Whilst there are restaurants and some retail, such as “Nike” and “Jigsaw” in Pancras Square, the area servesmore as a place of work and relaxation, rather than a tourist destination. The model of “linear passage” isoften used in towns to promote commerce, as people are forced to pass shops and are therefore drawninto the act of purchasing goods through involuntary user interface with retail. An example of such modelis Regents Street, by John Nash.
The rich were forced to pass commerce in order to reach their homesthrough the linear passage of the street. The same concept is compromised however in King’s Cross, as toretain the historic buildings the nature of the site must be kept relatively open, therefore structures cannot actsuccessfully as a “linear passage” for retail and commerce. The development thus does not encourage thelarge-scale development of shopping centres etc, other than the “Coals Drop Yard”, due to its linear nature.
Through critical evaluation of the many themes which have contributed to the development of King’s Cross,the theme of history and heritage plays the most important role in the current and future success of the site.The underlying models of utopian urban landscapes also play a significant roll; the high quality public openspace discussed in utopian ideology expressed throughout the green spaces and areas of openness, suchas the tranquillity of the reflective pools and trees of Pancras Square. The qualitative phenomenon of thehistoric buildings and open space give King’s Cross a richness incomparable to any other area of London.The theme of “presence of the past” is the support on which this development stands upon and which hasgiven the development a strong and successful sense of place. “If we allow the forces of placelessness tocontinue unchallenged, then the future can only hold an environment in which places do not matter.
If, onthe other hand, we choose to respond to that need and to transcend placelessness, then the potential existsfor the development of an environment in which places are for man, reflecting and enhancing the variety ofhuman experience”25.25. Larice and Macdonald, Michael and Elizabeth, The Urban Design Reader , ( Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013) 271.