In fact, some grands projets, started long before the recession, are coming to fruition and they offer new hope. The Olympic site is not the only major development in North London. The railway lands north of St Pancras and King’s Cross stations, which for decades housed rotting canal-side warehouses, railway sheds and gas-holders, are taking shape as a 21st century campus of great vision and potential.
It began with the British Library – a surprise success for ‘70s planning and government funding: since 1998 one of London’s greatest resources for serious study and also a gorgeous place to hang out.
Then came St Pancras International, the Eurostar terminal and also base for the Javelin high speed trains that can reach the Olympics site in 6 minutes. Just open is the London University of the Arts, a vast complex incorporating Central St Martin’s School of Art, the London College of Fashion and other art colleges. Work has now started on the Francis Crick Institute, a major biomedical research facility. Not part of the site but just across York Way are King’s Place, home of the Guardian newspaper and Macmillan publishers, home of the leading science journal Nature. The revamp of Kings’ Cross station is nearing completion, with its soaring new concourse roof and promised piazza where the old drab concourse used to be.
Running through the site is the Regents Canal, currently being landscaped, and the campus has its natural oasis in Camley Street Natural Park. What was once a blot on the capital city is becoming a learning park of the highest quality. What is especially interesting about this is that no such broad area development has happened in Britain, barring shopping malls, for a very long time. Signature buildings have been dropped into streetscapes to which they contribute nothing. But at King’s Cross the institutes together will add up to more than the sum of their parts. Individually, some of the architecture, at least, is memorable.
Not bad for a place once notorious for dereliction, vagrants and prostitution.