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Friday, June 07, 2013

Kings Cross--a Hidden Jewel!

"If you're curious, London's an amazing place." ~ David Bailey, British Photographer 


  Not five minutes after mooring up a voice hailed us from the bridge:
   "Are you you staying the night? You have to fill a form in to confirm you realize there are no facilities available and you agree to leave after 24 hours." Les called up to say we were staying the night and the bloke on the bridge called back to us to say he would be right down with the paperwork! Efficient and timely! A few minutes later, paper in hand, a forty something guy in a red and black windbreaker and baseball cap with a black canvas bag across his chest came up to us with the form which we quickly filled out and signed. He and Les had a chinwag about safety in the area and I closed my eyes and drank in his London working man's dialect. No posh London school accent this--it was almost straight our of My Fair Lady! It seems the site is secure enough with the local development company providing employees who patrol the area from the bridge.
   All sorted, Dear Sir invited me on a date: a tour of the old wharf and rail good yards and buildings. How could I resist? A handsome bloke, a slice of canal related history, and a new area of the Old Smoke (London's nickname) to explore! 
The first sight to grab me was the 6 tall cranes reaching for the sky way above our mooring spot! Readers please be on the watch for the cranes throughout this and my next 2 post as they are a focal point which provides an idea of location and distance.
   A stairwell led from our canal side mooring at Kings Cross up to the street level on Goods Way where one could cross and walk down past a huge construction site to either Kings Cross or St. Pancras Rail Stations or continue to the right down Goods Way, and walk over the bridge to the campus of Central St. Martins-University of the Arts London (UAL) with its courtyard fountains and public arts installations.
   This is what awaits at the top of the stairs--a giant construction site encompassing Kings Cross railway station surrounded by giant multi-track rail lines arriving from distance places. 
Directly across the street from the mooring stairs is Kings Road leading down to the new saucer shaped roof of Kings Cross Station with the spires of St. Pancras Station behind. These two railway stations are cheek by jowl with one another. St. Pancras station is where the Eurostar train leaves for the channel tunnel and continental Europe.
   This ambitious redevelopment of the area began in response to the Channel Tunnel Eurostar train coming in to nearby St. Pancras Station. Planning permission was granted in 2006, groundbreaking occurred in 2008 and the entire project will be completed in 2025. It encompasses 67 acres and 8 million square feet, providing 50 new buildings, 2000 new homes, 20 new streets, 10 new public squares, 3.4 million square feet of work space, 500,000 sq. feet of retail development, 26 acres of public space, and its own new post code! (Data courtesy of Kings Cross Visitor's Center, accessed 06/05/13.) Respect for the past while developing for the future has earned this site a ranking of one of England's 20 best heritage led developments by English Heritage.  
  This road above is Goods Way. It runs parallel to the Regents Canal at this spot. Off to my right is a bridge over the canal and into the old Granary Wharf building which has been refurbished beautifully, providing a new home for University of the Arts London's (UAL) Central St, Martins campus, the beating heart of this redevelopment scheme. 
Standing above and in front of our mooring, looking across at the Granary building housing UAL.
Walking across the bridge. NB Valerie is moored down below on the right.
   These are 1000 individually lit fountains which playfully change height in a synchronized fashion. At night the view is stunning. During the day the changing water installation is an art piece all on its own, set exactly where the barges used to load up with goods from Granary Wharf--an homage to the age of canal boats. 
  Granary Square as this space is called, is the same size as London's famous Trafalgar Square. Both will hold 2000 people. The water can be turned off to provide a large assembly point or stage for productions. Two large musical revues and an Ice Cream Fair have already made use of this fabulous public space.
    I love the bright yellow table and chairs and clipped trees for shade and pattern. It's a great place to sit and eat lunch or have a coffee and watch the changing patterns of the fountain--or people watch! There are five thousand students and employees who come and go throughout the day. Theater and Arts folk tend to be quirky and unusual. You never know what you might see! 
   Another lovely feature of this campus is free wi-fi outdoors! The plan is for all outdoor public spaces in this redevelopment to offer this service for free. Ambitious, generous, amazing. Bring your laptop and sit in the dappled shade touching bases with your friends, family or the world for no charge.
   I can tell you are wondering what's up with the silver sashes splashed (say that five time really fast!!) across the front of the buildings. They are a public space art installation by Italian artist Felice Varini, encompassing the facades of nine Victorian buildings around Granary Square.
   At first glance is appears that the silver slashes are spread about in a random fashion, brightening the exteriors of old warehouses, rail sheds, and canal wharf buildings, but there is an observation point where Kings Boulevard meets Goods Way in which all the silver banners will connect across one's sight line. Brilliant! Titles "Across the Buildings," this installation will remain in place until October 2013. It is sponsored by RELAY, a nine year public arts program showcasing contemporary art in Kings Cross public spaces.
   So far I am in love with Kings Cross! Our heads are turning every which way trying to track all the sights, sounds, and experiences available for free to those with curiosity and plenty of time to check out the area. 

  We decided to mozey across the square and down the side road beyond the yellow chairs and tables. This is Stable street above, which runs between the old Coal Drops on the left and The Western Transit Shed on the right which flank the Granary building. When the redevelopment of this part of the project is completed the Coal Drops will house 80-90 retail units with food stalls and outdoor market bays. The Western Transit Shed will be retail and office space. Right now though, the space only hints at what is coming:
    I think it's clever how this outdoor space is thoughtfully designed to include art and seating, even while it is in the process of becoming something else.
   Eventually tall stylish flats will be located beyond this facade as well as reconstruction of the old gasometers which were dismantled. Once the flats have been built with green spaces in between, the gasometer frames will be brought back and rebuilt. One will house offices, the other will provide a public park space.
Gasometer No.8 before being dismantled, 2009. © Kings Cross Center General Partner Ltd. 2013.
Future view of Gasometer No.8 filled with local folks enjoying the water features and the view across the canal. © Kings Cross Center General Partner Ltd. 2013.
Gasometer No.8, front, at night looking across the canal to the rail stations. Gasometer No. 9 behind, filled with office space.  © Kings Cross Center General Partner Ltd. 2013.
    These clever "Love Kings Cross" media designs cover the bay doors of the Western Transit Shed, opposite the temporary wall painted with rail cars. Students taking a break can sit across the way and contemplate the future as redevelopment continues.
This is an artist's rendering of Stable street at night when all the development is completed. The Coal Drops are on the left; The Western Transit Shed with its big bay doors lit up, on the right.
© Kings Cross Center General Partner Ltd. 2013.
   Around the back of the Granary Building is Handyside Street. Currently a clever community project is in residence back there:  
   This is the Kings Cross Skip Garden! It's is a moveable feast--a vegetable garden on wheels allowing the entire garden project to move around the site as construction begins in new areas of the project. Looked after by volunteers affiliated with the Guardian Newspaper, Construction Apprentices, and Global Generation--a charity helping young people to create a sustainable world, the youth volunteers on this project learned construction skills, how to grow organic, sustainable food in a city, and how to market their product to local markets and restaurants. The Skip Garden also host a pop-up cafe on the first Saturday of every month from 10 am-4 pm. Brilliant!! (© Kings Cross Center General Partner Ltd. 2013.)
   On around the building, we turned right into an area which was confusingly labeled in the past. I've found an aerial view and alphabetized the buildings as they were before redevelopment began. Working our way across this picture alphabetically: 
A is the Midlands Good Shed--built by the GNR (Great Northern Railway) in 1850, it served temporarily as a passenger terminal until the current Kings Cross Station was completed, after which is became a three story warehouse. It will be restored and converted to offices, shops and cultural space.
B is the West Handyside Canopy. It was constructed in 1888 to provide covered space for the unloading of fish and perishables which were then distributed by rail and barge throughout London. Fish was sold here on Sundays when The city of London's Billingsgate Fish Market was shut. Rail transport ceased in the 1970's. The canopy has been restored and will be  used as an events space, hosting weekly and seasonal markets.
C is the Granary building was used to store Lincolnshire wheat for London bakers. It is now home to Central St. martins University of the Arts London. 
D is Kings Cross Rail Station.
E is St. Pancras Rail station.
Underneath the restored metal West Handyside canopy the old rails still gleam! Up ahead on the right is the entrance to the University of the Arts London's Central St, Martins campus.
   I was entranced by UAL's entrance! It featured a preview of one of the many degrees offered through this campus; four collages housed inside and behind a plate glass window emblazoned with the acronym FACS: Fine Arts Critical Studies which is a five year degree program for mature students offering a groundbreaking practice of theory and art practicum allowing students to take their work outside the studio in a one year placement, making art in, for, and about social context.
   Inside the old Granary Wharf building the space was amazingly restored with care, capturing the old and respecting its fingerprint while re-imagining the best means for a contemporary use as an arts school.
This glass ceiling atrium stretches the width of the Granary building, opening up the interior. The outlines of former sheds still speak to its use as a granary wharf building as do the industrial architectural elements such as lights placed in old round ceiling air shafts and the metal scaffolding for the elevator.
This is the entrance to Central St. Martins: students and staff only. Coal buckets hang in the air--a tribute to the former industry on site.
Large loading bay doors have been left as passageways. This atrium houses art exhibits and hosts functions during the school term.
    Who Tall Are You? Playing with Identity/Empathy and Well Being: student art installations on display at the UAL Central St. Martins campus in Kings Cross.
    We walked past windows of exhibits and students engrossed in installing their art in spaces large and small!
    If art in its myriad forms is your thing then don't miss the opportunity to wander through the Granary building and check out all the amazing art in the making available for free. Unfortunately I couldn't really take a picture of the Drama area since it was locked but I can tell you some very good actors have graduated from UAL's program including Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan. While UAL/Central St, Martins campus takes up most of the building, the smaller front part is currently occupied by the Kings Cross Visitor Centre--not to be missed!
   The helpful staff will fill you in on any aspect of this area: historical or contemporary. There are reference books and maps available for use. The lovely woman staffing the desk answered all our questions and suggested we visit two local sights that Les had no idea existed.
The old wagon turntable rails have been left in the Granary Building floor.
3D interactive model of Kings Cross outside the Visitors Centre. Buildings and sections light up to illustrate the geography of Kings Cross.
This glass office housing the Visitors Centre. Granary square with its fountains is right out those front doors and the steps down to the canal are out front as well. 
 Pictures above and below, © Kings Cross Center General Partner Ltd. 2013.
An artists vision of what it will look like standing out in front of Granary square. A public art installation of birds will fly across the brick work.  Looking across beyond the bridge over the Regents canal, the six cranes will be gone--their work completed.
    There is so much to see and do here--its astounding. Please visit the Kings Cross Visitor Centre web site for more information.The next blog post will continue our journey around Kings Cross with a visit to a lovely wildlife oasis five minutes walk from our mooring!


8 comments:

JACQUIE AND STEIN said...

Wow a lot of work went into that blog. Very interesting facts and some very arty photo's. Gold Star. ***** Jacquie x

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks Jacquie. It was amazing what we uncovered in 24 hours! When we make another pilgrimage to Paddington for a week sometime next year, we will definitely go out and stay at Kings Cross again. Lots to do and see and we will want to see how it has all changed.

Enjoy the sunshine--wish we could find a way to store it up and release it again on overcast day.
JaqXXX

Anonymous said...

Really interesting blog. Thanks Jaq! Next time I have a spare couple of hours in 'The Smoke', I'll take a walk round here.

Cheers, Alistair

John Witts said...

The re-imagining of ex-industrial space is something of which I feel this country can be justifiably proud.

While you're in Town, pop across the river and have a mosey round the old Bankside Power Station........

:-)

The walk along the Albert embankment from Vauxhall to The Tower of london is well worth doing too!

:-)

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hello Alistair--lovely to hear from you. London is an amazing place--so many hidden jewels all around. I am pleased to share what we find with others in the hopes you will enjoy it as well.
Take care,
Jaq

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi John,
I completely agree with you. While it sounds silly I have to say the moment we stepped inside St. Pancras station I could see why England was certain it could undertake the building of the Suez canal. Such vision is breathtaking to behold and leaves someone like me filled with wonder.

We will definitely put your suggestions on our list for our next visit to London.
JaqXX

The Mechanic AKA. Mick Lomax said...

Hi Guys

Glad to read about your adventure in Kings Cross. I haven't been down there for a couple of months now, the company we deliver to in Camley Street cannot take artics at the minute because of the building work opposite them. I notice one of our wagons in Goods Way turning at the traffic lights in one of your photos.

We will have to make a trip down there and have a good explore around there ourselves soon.

Mick

P.S.

Hope you are both keeping well?

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Mick,
Kings Cross is a great place to knock about--lots to do. Funny that you saw one your company vans in our pictures! England really is a small Island.

We are well--down on the Thames now actually. Great to hear from you.
Take care,
Jaq and Les

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs