Look ahead, maybe look a little around you. You could be in a pavilion at a large Royal Horticultural Society garden.
This is somewhere to sit and contemplate your surroundings, at the junction of the natural environment and the world of built structures. But – whoops – now you’ve looked too far around you. The illusion has shattered. You’re actually in the middle of Croydon, in a part of town for which the most avowed urbanist would struggle to make the argument for its attractiveness.
Amidst non-descript office blocks, the strangely underwhelming entrance to West Croydon station, a typically unexciting Croydon Tramlink stop, and a row of buildings on Station Road that have definitely seen better days, West Croydon bus station is an oasis of quiet architectural elegance.
Transport for London and London Buses haven’t always been in this website’s good books when it comes to bus stations (The Beauty of Transport, 1 November 2017) so it is a pleasure to commend this modest but very effective example of a London Buses bus station. On an island site around which the buses circulate, it achieves its basic imperative of sheltering bus passengers and allowing them to move from one bus to another without being too exposed to the elements. A continuous cantilevered canopy runs round the bus station, but as with Vauxhall Bus Station, and presumably for similar reasons of personal security, passengers wait in what is a mostly open building rather than one which is fully enclosed.
In truth, the bus station actually comprises two linked buildings, a single storey coffee shop at the south end and a bus information office and bus drivers’ accommodation in a two storey building at the north end. Between them, the canopy extends inwards to provide a roof, while low height walls, information boards and vertical planting up the canopy’s columns provide the illusion of an enclosed area. It is the inside/outside sensation of this area and the unusual use of plants to soften the bus station which makes it seem similar to a modern garden pavilion. The linking area under the canopy acts partly as a waiting area for bus passengers, and also as an exterior extension of the coffee shop offer, with bar stools lined up along a wooden counter. At the southern end of the bus station, beyond the coffee shop, an open section in the canopy allows a silver birch tree to grow up through the roof; not the sort of thing you expect to find at most bus stations.
It is in details such as this that West Croydon bus station succeeds so charmingly. The coffee shop and bus drivers’ accommodation block are angular and uncompromising in shape; simply boxes. Yet the large windows of both the coffee shop and the upper storey of the accommodation block are immediately inviting, while the latter’s lower story cleverly cheats a similar effect with a row of blind windows. The angular form of the two buildings is meanwhile softened by the curving wooden slatted benches which are positioned on their outer walls.
The benches are just another of the many thoughtful elements which make the bus station such an unexpected joy. The brickwork uses unusually proportioned bricks which are long and thin and more redolent of Tudor bricks than modern ones. This subtle design feature immediately elevates the bus station above the mundane. The canopy is glazed with a translucent material which lets daylight through but is, I suspect, a more practical alternative to fully transparent glazing in an urban environment where particulate build up must be a problem. The canopy is supported on steel columns, but these are manufactured in corten, weathering to a bark-like orange/brown. I like corten steel a lot, but it is seldom used in transport infrastructure (though it does happen sometimes, and in areas of great landscape beauty too (The Beauty of Transport, 3 September 2014)). The spandrels between the columns and the beams of the canopy are perforated with small circular holes to make a pattern of curved lines. They make for a modern interpretation of the equivalents found under the canopies of so many Victorian railway stations, and also prevent the structure from appearing too top-heavy. All the standard details of Transport for London’s bus stations – signage, clocks and so on – are there, present and correct.
At night, a sensitive lighting design takes a surprising, yet effective, domestic approach. Lamps hang down around the canopy to provide downlight on passengers. Cleverly concealed strip lights positioned on the inside of the canopy’s outer edge, wash the bus station’s walls with light, creating a beacon-like effect when set against the darker buildings behind. The extruded lettering of the bus station’s name, and the London Buses version of the TfL logo, are internally illuminated; a nice finishing touch.
West Croydon Bus Station was designed in-house by TfL Architects, but unusually for such a circumstance we actually know the name of the architect. Winning the RIBA London Award 2017 and RIBA London Project Architect of the Year Award 2017 for his work on the project was Martin Eriksson. Before TfL Architects he worked for Swiss architecture firm Herzog de Meuron, known on these pages for the Basel signal boxes (The Beauty of Transport, 3 August 2016).
Because this is Britain, the local media was keen to whip up a bit of aren’t-new-buildings-awful controversy when West Croydon Bus Station opened in 2016. In this the Croydon Advertiser failed rather, with 63% of respondents to a poll saying they liked it with only 37% disliking it. Comments ranged from “really smart” to “a tree house”. And if the latter is as bad as could be found, Eriksson’s delightfully human-scale bus station has earned its place as a highlight of Croydon’s streetscape.
Thank you to Stefan Baguette (follow at @stefanbaguette on Twitter) for the marvellous photos and permission to use them.
How to Find West Croydon Bus Station
Bibliography and Further Reading
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