Jon Morrison

The architecture of the Elizabeth Line

One year after it opened, the former head of architecture at TfL lifts the lid on what it took to design it

  • From Spectator Life
Farringdon station on the Elizabeth Line [Getty Images]

There was much to celebrate last year on the architecture front – the end of the pandemic brought the opening of long-delayed projects ranging from the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Hollywood to the Taipei Performing Arts Centre in Taiwan. But there was one construction project that stood head and shoulders above the rest in size and ambition, and that was the transport link formerly known as Crossrail. 

The Taipei Centre may have been seven years late and the Academy Museum (now home to Judy Garland’s red slippers and R2D2, among other artefacts) more than a couple of decades in gestation, but that is nothing compared with London’s Elizabeth Line, which was first proposed in the 1940s. It got the ‘Crossrail’ moniker in a 1974 report, a first feasibility study happened in 1989 and, after an attempt to get it through parliament in 1991 failed, the Crossrail Act was finally given royal assent in 2008. Work began on the 73-mile route in 2009, and it was originally due to open in 2018. Given that Covid-19 happened along the way, four years late and about £4 billion over the original budget of £15 billion doesn’t actually sound that bad.

‘It’s designed to last 120 years, so we wanted it to be calm and use honest materials – there are no painted surfaces. And we wanted it to be soothing – people add the colour’

By the time the problematic Bond Street station opened at the end of October (an extraordinary £570 million over the budget of £110 million), ten new stations had been constructed, a further 31 had been upgraded, eight huge boring machines had cut 26 miles of new tunnels beneath the capital, capable of taking 250 million passengers a year, and 250,000 pre-cast concrete segments had been slotted into place. The line opened to passengers a year ago, on 24 May, but only this month has its full timetable come into operation, with all routes up and running and 24 trains per hour through its central tunnels during the peak hours.

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