Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Redevelopment with Moore than enough going for it

King's Cross Square
Contrary to what you might think from yesterday’s post about the gutting and ‘redevelopment’ of whole swathes of inner London, not all the redevelopment that is going on is bad or unwelcome.

Take King’s Cross, for instance.

Originally built in 1851-52, it was designed by Lewis Cubitt with an incredibly simple façade rising to 120 feet on the central clock tower.

The Great Northern Hotel was added next door a couple of years later, also designed by Cubitt.

The station is Italianate in style – much in vogue at the time. Indeed, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight was designed in that fashion by Prince Albert, and built by Cubitt’s brother Thomas between 1845 and 1851 for Victoria and her consort.

But however impressive the main station is, it was ruined in 1972, when a dismal extension was added to the front to allow for concourse space and shops.

It’s worth noting that this was not the first time that King’s Cross had been blighted by crummy buildings in front of it – old photographs reveal that it’s far from being a recent phenomenon.

But finally, in 2005, a plan was revealed plan for redevelopment and restoration and now – finally – we’re seeing the completion of that.

King's Cross, 1998
Much of the work was completed in time for the London Olympics in 2012.

In the space between the station building and the hotel, a new concourse was constructed with a vast, curving roof linking the two, designed by John McAslan – and it’s not difficult to see the influence of Norman Foster’s central court at the British Museum.

It’s an elegant, curvaceous and spacious solution.

But the ghastly carbuncle on the front of the station remained for another few months, until the end of 2012, before it was finally consigned to the history books.

Now unless my memory is really poor, the new square was originally due to be completed by the middle of last summer. But work dragged on. And on. And was only halted briefly for last September’s official opening.

After that, scaffolding returned, along with plastic barriers, as work continued into and through last winter, although gradually, the barriers reduced in number.

Before the 1972 extension, but every bit as bad
And then last week, the remaining scaffolding was removed from the top of the roof that links the café that’s been built around one of the ventilation shafts with an entrance to the Tube station.

The entire restoration project was awarded a European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award last year.

The overall result is perhaps fussier than some might have expected – you suspect that the architects had a fit of panic at all that space – but it does allow for plenty of seating space, and is most certainly a 100% improvement on what existed before, allowing Cubitt’s clean lines in golden stone to soar properly once more.

But last week came what felt like the crowning glory – a new work of sculpture was set to be unveiled in on the piazza.

Well, I say “new”: the planning permission notices suggested that it was a work by someone whose name rang no bells, but the sight of abstract bronze beneath sheeting and scaffolding piqued my curiosity enough for a spot of research.

King's Cross Square, for #DrawingAugust
Forget that bit about it being by someone I didn’t know: it turned out to be the three-metre high Large Spindle Piece, which was created in 1974 by Henry Moore and which is now on loan at the station for at least five years.

The Other Half is particularly pleased with this, since Moore was a son of Castleford.

And Moore’s own enthusiasm for public art gives it an added suitability – plus the point, while probably not uppermost in the minds of those responsible, that to get from London to Castleford by train you depart from King’s Cross.

It was apparently selected both to compliment the vertical lines of Cubitt’s façade, and also because it would be difficult to climb or sit on.

The frame for the unveiling was only being removed as I headed down to see it on Friday afternoon, so it was only yesterday that I could finally see it up close and personal.

Large Spindle Piece, for #DrawingAugust
This morning I headed back, intending to sit and sketch it for #DrawingAugust – a daily, Twitter art challenge that’s great for building a daily discipline of sketching – but after being approached for money as I was about to sit down, I found myself photographing it and then heading to my usual café to doodle away over breakfast.

The exercise offers a wonderful opportunity to get an idea of the work.

And it’s an impressive piece, inspired by a pebble that Moore picked up one day, and with a twisting, multi-faceted surface that changes with the light.

Some of London’s public art is, at best, of dubious merit.

Besides the obvious corporate stuff, just wander to St Pancras next door to see The Meeting Place (2007), the ludicrously overlarge – at nine metres – bronze by Paul Day, featuring an embracing couple (modelled on the artist and his wife) who are supposed to illustrate the ties between France and Britain.

Martin Jennings’s 2007 statue of Sir John Betjeman – who helped save the station and chambers from demolition in the 1960s – is, on the contrary, rather wonderful.

But against that background, having a real Henry Moore as a public work in London is something that can only add to an area that shows that redevelopment, done well, really can work.

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