Sky’s the limit for construction in London
London is looking up, rather than down, as developers seek to meet the demand for more living and working space created by the capital’s ever-increasing population. No fewer than 263 buildings higher than 20 storeys are being built in London or are going through the planning system – 11% more than last year – according to a report by New London Architecture and property consultant GL Hearn.
But rather than adding to the capital’s crowded skyline, Transport for London is exploring how to bring some of the 40 disused Underground stations in the city back into commercial use.
The transport operator hopes to start leasing out sections of some disused stations to “innovative businesses which could bring in additional revenue to be reinvested in the transport network”, according to TfL's director of commercial development Graeme Craig.
TfL is already considering applications from commercial partners to redevelop Down Street station, which closed in 1932 because of its proximity to Hyde Park Corner and Green Park stations.
A feasibility study has concluded a theatre, shop, restaurant or bar could fit into the lift shaft, while the tunnel leading to the station could be turned into a gallery or product launch space.
However, TfL acknowledges that at just 400 square metres, the restricted size of the potential new Down Street development (and many other similar projects) limits the range of businesses that might make a success of the space. Its brochure for prospective commercial partners warns: "Given the restricted space available and our requirement to maximise commercial returns from the site, it is likely that low footfall/high revenue uses will be most successful in this location."
This was certainly the case with the redevelopment of a former bomb shelter near Clapham North undergound station, which has been converted into a soil-free salad farm that has been endorsed by celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr.
A further sticking point with bringing mothballed sections of the Tube system back into use is many remain access and exit points to the underground network.
This does not stop them being used as film locations (parts of tunnels near Charing Cross stretching underneath Trafalgar Square that closed in 1999 were used to film Daniel Craig chasing Javier Bardem in the James Bond movie Skyfall) but plans to turn the disused Piccadilly Line branch from Holborn to the abandoned Aldwych station plus a path from Green Park to Charing Cross into a cyclist and pedestrian route appears a little ambitious.
Despite the London Underline scheme - devised by San Francisco-based architect firm Gensler - winning the best conceptual project at the 2015 London Planning Awards, it has been pointed out that the Holborn to Aldwych stretch of the route is just 500m long.
Its critics say it’s difficult to see the attraction to cyclists of adding the time and effort to get down to tunnel level and re-emerge at the other end for a journey that they can do in not much more than a couple of minutes.
London has a long history of converting unused corners of the capital into innovative building projects – just think of the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station. But to meet the growing demand for large-scale projects, developers need to turn their eyes to the skies and make maximum use of a building’s height.