Full Steam Ahead: the Epic Journey of Crossrail

Crossrail Train design
Crossrail Train design

Every city needs a fast and reliable transport network to improve productivity and efficiency, therefore developing the economy. Infrastructure is a very important aspect of every development and urban plan. Which is why, for the UK to not fall behind, the Crossrail project was started.

Crossrail is the UK’s biggest and most important train system infrastructure project today.

It seeks to improve travel and journey in London to achieve better connectivity for the people of the UK. More direct routes and travel to the capital are offered as 40 stations will be linked between Reading and Heathrow and Shenfield and Abbey Wood through a 21 km. tunnel that is being constructed under Central London and the Docklands.

Crossrail is a project that gives solution to the problem of congestion. 24 trains will be traveling per hour.

Work started back in May 2009 with around 10,000 workers based at over 40 sites.

Network Rail is the primary designer, developer, and supplier of parts of the Crossrail railways and trains. The London architects and engineers of the project have a goal to complete and open the trains to the public by 2018 and minimize disruption to current train services while construction for the Crossrail is ongoing.

So far, there’s extensive work in the rail network and it is hoped that by 2017, major fit-out of both stations and tunnels will be done and that by 2018, Crossrail will already replace Liverpool-Shenfield suburban trains with these new 200-meter long Crosstail trains. It is projected that in the mid 2018’s, trains will be running in London’s tunnels and in late 2019, full Crossrail railway services will be operating.

Aside from the improved linkages promised by Crosstail, passenger comfort with the much longer and larger trains are also expected.

One Hyde Park: the Story of Elite Living in London

Located in Knightsbridge London, One Hyde Park is one of the world’s most expensive residential and retail blocks. It is owned by Project Grande (Guernsey) Limited which is a partnership of Christian Candy’s CPC Group and Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Jaber Al Thani.5

It’s a 385,000 square feet area with 86 units; each has prices that start at £20 million. One Hyde Park units are trophy homes. Not everyone can afford to own a property here which is why only 76 units have been sold out of the 86 and 64 of which are registered under the name of corporations and only 17 are personal residences. In 2010, a penthouse in One Hyde Park was sold for £140 million. We can’t really identify who these people living in such expensive properties are as One Hyde Park is one of the most secure and secretive residences in the world. What is known is that private owners are oligarchs and the global rich, or sheiks and royalty from all over the world. It is definitely only and exclusively for the very, very rich.

London architects for the project, Richard Rogers and his team, started planning officially back in 2006 and construction started the following year. The superstructure was then completed in 2009.

Lights by James Turrel
Lights by James Turrel

The interior was designed by developer Candy and kitchen areas are Baulthaup designed and equipped with Gaggenau appliances. Owners can choose light or dark marble or stone palette styles. James Turrel, world-renowned lighting artist, was also commissioned to install contemporary lights in the building. It is a definite work of art.

Some of the amenities include a 21-metre swimming pool, a private spa, a squash court, gym, private cinema, virtual games room, and entertainment suites.

The view of the park and the city is one of the best. Three known high-end retail units in the local area are Rolex, Mclaren, and the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank. Harrods and Harvey Nichols are also within the area when residents need to go shopping.

One Hyde Park was built to be every member of the elite’s dream residence.

All You Need to Know About London’s Controversial Chelsea Barracks Development

One of the apartment plans for Chelsea Barracks
One of the apartment plans for Chelsea Barracks

It was only in March 2015 that construction of the Qatari housing project and development Chelsea Barracks started. The 12.8-acre site was sold to Qatari Diar and the CPC group at a price of one billion pounds back in April 2007. There was a lot of controversy and drama between 2007 and 2015 when the ground was finally broken to start construction and realization of the plans.

The project was not hastily pushed through right away because of the UK’s economy which was declining. It was a time of recession then. Although the site cost the Qatari Royal family billions to purchase, construction would cost billions more to build 448 luxury and high-end residences. 123 of which are considered affordable being only one-bedroom flat designs, but the luxury homes are mansions with up to seven bedrooms. There will also be 5 acres of gardens and open spaces for the public.

Another reason for the delay has been the design. The initial design by Richard Rogers in 2009 was Brutalist. However, Prince Charles personally wrote to the Prime Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani about his discontent and strong disapproval. He hoped that the developers may be able to change the design into something that would leave a unique legacy to London architecture. Due to this, Rogers was fired and Prince Charles’ architects took over.

There has also been disapproval from the community, especially elderly Londoners, about Qataris owning Chelsea Barracks. However, a “Project Blue”  representative said, “We have spent a number of years of working closely with the local residents, Westminster City Council, community groups and local businesses to develop a masterplan for this historic site. This development will deliver world-class homes, beautifully designed new green space and a wide range of new amenities for residents and the local community, as well as additional jobs and much-needed housing in central London.” There will also be ‘extra care’ housing for the elderly. Community facilities, such as a sports center, health facility and retail complex will also be built.

The project is also expected to redefine the presence of Qatar in London. Qatar will have a stronger presence in the city.

A Glimpse at London’s New US Embassy

The US Embassy established its office in the United Kingdom back in 1960. It is currently situated in the London Chancery Building, Grosvenor Square, Westminster, London. Later this year, the US Embassy will be moving to a new site in the Nine Elms Area of Wandsworth.

The new US Embassy currently being constructed is called “The Chancery” which is a cube building with 11 storeys. It’s intended to be one of the iconic additions to London architecture in 2016. It is also expected to be one of the most sustainable and efficient buildings constructed this year.

Chancery building design, a glass cube
Chancery building design, a glass cube

While the London Chancery Building is still structurally okay and renovations have been considered, it was in 2008 that the idea of finally moving into a more modern facility was finalized. The goal is to build a landmark that will showcase the timeless strength of the US-UK relationship. The site was bought from the Ballymore Real Estate.

A competition was held as to what the design should be. The Chancery cube building design by Kieran Timberlake, Philadelphia-based architects, was chosen in 2010. UK architects cannot join the bid because of a US law that only American firms should be chosen for their government buildings and there are many security clearances required.

The groundbreaking happened last November 13, 2013 and construction started straight away. Last December, the topping-out ceremony took place. The internal curtain walls for the Pacific forest and gardens were also completed last year. Floorings were installed and glazing is ongoing. It is expected to be completed late 2016 while some say it could be early 2017.

The funds used are not allocated funds. It was funded from the sale of government properties in the UK. Large amounts of money were from the sale of property to the Qatari Diar back in 2007 to build the Chelsea Barracks project.

UK Housing Bill Causes Headache for Architects

The controversial UK Housing and Planning Bill of 2015 that’s almost on its way to becoming a law is causing a riot, literally. Aside from travelers protesting on the provisions of the Bill, architects too are showing great disapproval with what the Bill is trying to do.

UK Housing Bill Causes Headache for Architects
UK Housing Bill Causes Headache for Architects

Basically, in a nut shell, the UK Housing and Planning Bill that was first introduced back in October 13, 2015, is trying to solve the long-standing housing problem in the United Kingdom. According to a Cambridge study, the UK has low level rates of house building. Meaning, the UK is not building enough homes to meet the demands of the population. The Bill is trying to solve this by different approaches, one of which is to force councils to put their high value residential properties on sale to the market once they become vacant at a much lower price and use the money as capital to build low cost and affordable homes.

It would also introduce a system of automatic planning permissions with regards to brownfield sites. These are sites that have not been used or have been closed that could be developed.

Another is to facilitate office to residential conversions quickly without the need for planning.

Architects are NOT in Favor of the Bill

UK Architects think that the Bill was not carefully thought through and that the Conservatives just pushed it through without much consideration on how to really solve the housing problem. “Dangerous” is the term of most architects reply when they are asked what they think of the Bill. They are most concerned about the provisions on the Brownfield Sites and the Office to Residential Conversions.

As UK Architects, they believe that their moral responsibility is to build better homes and structures for the people of the UK. However, the Bill is trying to compromise this by speeding up the development, thus neglecting the need for quality in favor of quantity. Homes are not just little boxes where one can live and conduct daily routine, they require a livable environment. The government should not be short-sighted about this.

Bypassing standards and regulations are desperate and good design and quality life will be sacrificed, as most architects would agree.

Another insight by Daryl Chen, partner and leader of the urban design studio at Hawkins Brown, is that the Bill will destroy mixed communities in London. It might even lead to a hollowing out.

James Rayner of Broadway Malyan said, “We seem to be able to cross boundaries with infrastructure so it’s surprising we can’t do it with housing. Instead we’ve left it up to the smallest management component in our whole democratic set-up which is probably the least able to deal with it on a strategic basis.”

Most architects also agree that a minimum space requirement for starter homes is needed. It is feared that after these homes are built, it won’t serve its very purpose anyway.

Such sentiments include other concerns such as the bill opening door to the building and construction industry more than the people and that the bill is profits-based not people-based.

The fundamental problem of the affordability of the starter homes initiative remains. A study reveals that even with the 20% discount, it’s not enough. These properties are still beyond the reach of most people on a £27,000 average wage.