Light Cones (Stratford Bus Station, London, UK)

Do you remember a few weeks the article about the tram/bus station at Münchner Freiheit?

Münchner Freiheit bus/tram station at night. Photo by Richard Huber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In the comments, John S suggested that Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft had effectively commissioned Stratford Bus Station in London, all over again, in Munich. He’s not altogether off the mark, as the two buildings perform a similar function and do indeed share a resemblance. So this week, let’s have a look at Stratford Bus Station.

Stratford Bus Interchange canopies at dusk
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Julian

Long before the 2012 Olympic Games and several years before the arrival of the Jubilee Line Extension, the bus station was London Transport’s first go at improving the public realm around Stratford railway station which was, it has to be said, not of the highest quality. It opened in 1994.

Designed by Soji Abass of London Transport’s Bus Passenger Infrastructure department, the bus station features 22 steel columns, arranged in two rows. Each column supports an inverted, square-based cone (properly called a conoid, because the sides curve in rather than the taper being smooth), drawing downwards to its narrowest point. Finished in white, it’s this arrangement of inverted conoids – the square bases being essential so that the conoids tessellate and leave no gaps in the canopy – that makes Stratford and Münchner Freiheit bus stations similar in appearance.

Despite the visual similarities, the construction techniques are actually quite different. Muchner Freiheit tram/bus station is made entirely of metal, shaped very cleverly so that it appears almost fabric-like in the way its roof curves down to the pillars which support it from below. Stratford bus station’s canopy, on the other hand, actually is made of tensile fabric.

Stratford bus station
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Thomas

The material used is PTFE-coated (essentially Teflon, to you and me) glass fibre fabric, the same material used to make the canopy of the Millennium Dome, a few miles westward. The bus station’s canopy is suspended and kept taut from above, via metal cross beams and a complicated but attractive web of cables running out from the steel pillars, which extend above the top of the canopy. The Teflon coating means the canopy is remarkably durable, and has stayed bright and light despite being surrounded by roads with the particulate emissions such a location entails.

As well as being attractive, the unusual shape of the canopy is entirely practical, sheltering waiting bus passengers from the rain, and collecting the rain that falls on the canopy into a drainage system that runs down through the columns. The upper edge of the canopy is set a little higher than a double-decker bus, so passengers on the top deck can see down into the bus station.

Expertise on the detailed canopy design was provided by tensile fabric specialists Architen Landrell, which was also asked to design a lighting scheme for the bus station. Using uplighters clustered around the steel columns to bounce light off the bottom of the canopy helps make the bus station a local landmark; and makes for another visual similarity with Münchner Freiheit tram/bus station.

Underneath the canopy, a collection of waiting shelters, retail units and staff facilities were designed to be utilitarian (in the positive sense of the word), cuboid and with understated grey pannelling so as not to compete and clash with the canopy overhead. But The Buildings of England less kindly describes them as “boxy”, and their layout hasn’t been entirely without criticism (see here).

Underneath the canopy at Stratford Bus Station. Photo by diamond geezer [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr page

The bus station underwent a minor refurbishment in 2011 and early 2012 (I’m sure you can guess what it was in connection with) but it wisely left the signature roof canopy alone, concentrating on the waiting facilities and signage underneath, some of which received coloured panelling. In a neat touch, the waiting shelters include low level LED lighting strips as a safety measure which also enhances the ambience of the bus station.

However, Stratford Bus Station’s status as the most noticeable landmark in the immediate vicinity has probably been bumped to second place on the list following the installation in 2012 of a massive public artwork – The Stratford Shoal – on the other side of the road. Designed by Studio Egret West, it is a “vertical kinetic sculpture” made of naturally coloured titanium. Like all such efforts, it’s not proved universally popular, described in The Guardian as a “particularly egregious” attempt to hide an old shopping centre from view.

The Shoal is, to my eyes at least, completely inoffensive. But I much prefer the bus station, of course.

Photo by Cmglee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Bibliography and Further Reading

Cherry, Bridget; O’Brien, Charles; Pevsner, Nikolaus (2005): The Buildings of England, London 5: East. Yale University Press, New Haven and London (see here)

Taylor, Sheila (editor) (2001): The Moving Metropolis. Laurence King Publishing, London

Architen Landrell’s project page for Stratford Bus Station, here

How to find Stratford Bus Station

Click here for The Beauty of Transport‘s map

8 thoughts on “Light Cones (Stratford Bus Station, London, UK)

  1. My memory may be wrong, but I think when first opened, the bus station did not have the street-level screens at each stop. I seem to recall that these were added later, because of the impracticality of the roof for passengers – it is too high up to offer adequate rain protection, unless it happens to be falling precisely perpindicular to the canopy.

    1. That is correct. The waiting area screens were altered later. It also had a public café and staffed LRT information point, neither of which are deemed necessary in 2020.

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