Visiting Meridian Water is a vaguely surreal experience. London’s newest station – it opened on 3 June 2019 – finds itself adrift in a landscape of nothing very much at all, and with hardly any passengers. Land to its west has already been cleared for new development while to the east many of the existing industrial buildings are to be swept away in the near future. If the experience of visiting the station resembles anything else, it is that of viewing a 3D visualisation or artists’ impression, a shiny new building floating untethered over a blank background. This is what transport-led development looks like in practice, at least in its early days.
When new pieces of transport infrastructure are proposed or delivered, much of the reporting is around their perceived success or failure in responding to their local environment. Network Rail’s modular stations of the 2000s, a noble failure, ignored their local urban context in favour of a standard design. More recently, at locations like Cambridge North, new railway stations have taken a much more individualised and contextualised approach to their architecture.
Meridian Water essentially has no local environment to consider, and few existing design cues to respond to. It is the ultimate ‘blank sheet’ station, free to be what it is without concern over clashing with surrounding buildings. Indeed, it is subsequent buildings that will be forced to choose whether or not to blend in with the existing station. But if there is so little around the station at the moment, why is it necessary for it to be built yet at all? (Apart from the draw of the nearby IKEA and its Swedish meatballs, of course.)
Urban severance is the egregious secret that we tend to gloss over when extolling the virtues of the railway. While rail might be amongst the most sustainable modes of travel in the country, the railway network’s tracks have nevertheless had a huge negative social impact in countless urban areas, dividing communities from one another and making it difficult to cross from one side of town to the other.
Meridian Water is an attempt to address that problem from (before) the get-go at the heart of an enormous regeneration area in the London Borough of Enfield. Meridian Water (the regeneration scheme, not the station) is a 20-year, £6bn programme to deliver 10,000 new homes and associated infrastructure across an 85-hectare area previously dominated by logistics and warehousing.
New housing development in Britain often comes in for criticism for being designed around assumptions of car-led, unsustainable access. Meridian Water (the regeneration scheme) aims to do things better, with the provision of a railway station at the heart of the development from day one. In fact, in advance of day one.
Replacing the awkwardly-sited Angel Road station (the platforms of which can still be seen just to the north), Meridian Water station has been positioned on what will become an important east-west spine called The Causeway, the most significant movement corridor in the regeneration area (see an explanation of the structure of the regeneration here). The railway lines here run north-south, and the regeneration area covers both side of the tracks. The station has been designed to tackle, as far as possible, severance caused by the railway lines through the provision of a high-capacity, high-quality and accessible route over the railway.
Do an online search for Meridian Water station and several companies seem to have had a hand in its design. VolkerFitzpatrick claims a hand in its design and construction, Scott Brownrigg says its involvement was to “enhance proposals by others to obtain CABE [Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment] and planning approvals”. But it appears that the main architectural work was done by Karakusevic Carson Architects, which has also masterplanned the wider Meridian Water redevelopment.
The use of a railway station as a means of crossing the railway, rather than being solely for the use of railway passengers, is not new. Surbiton (The Beauty of Transport, 6 August 2014), in southwest London, is just one station that has a segregated footbridge. Half of it is internal to the station and used for accessing the platforms, and half of it provides a means of crossing the railway, accessed directly from the station’s forecourts.
Meridian Water arranges these elements slightly differently and in a way which will put the station at the heart of its new community. Wide staircases launch upwards from what will be public squares on either side of the station, where cafes and shops as well as cycle parking will be located. Smart extruded metal lettering displays the station name and will help give a sense of place to these new squares.
From here, the wide staircases lead up to an even wider bridge deck which accommodates both the pedestrian route over the railway and Meridian Water’s ticket hall and concourse. At the front and along the sides the ticket hall has the glass curtain walling one might expect of a new railway station, but its most distinctive element is the overhanging roof, finished in gold-coloured geometric aluminium panels. Designed to appear as if floating overhead, its origami facets are well seen from within the spacious and uncluttered ticket hall, and its extension beyond the ticket office walls gives shelter to passengers using external ticket machines.
Perforated metal panels line the back wall of the ticket hall and the staircases down to the platforms, an intriguing stylistic element but one which is also tough and practical.
Freed from the constraints of responding directly to the station’s as yet unbuilt immediate urban environment, Karakusevic Carson says that Meridian Water station’s materials palette of dark bricks and bronze detailing instead reflects more broadly the industrial heritage of the wider area, in particular the Victorian warehouses surviving in this part of London.
Another intriguing design element is one which is common at mainland European stations, but extremely rare in Britain, and very welcome to see. Tactile elements on the floor have been provided for passengers with visual impairments who use guide or long canes (see this guide to canes from RNIB). In the usual way of accessibility measures, these end up helping all passengers, in this case by marking out desire lines through the station.
One of the most distinctive features of the station is its tall lift shafts, finished attractively with bricks in several shades of grey. Designed to be visible from some distance away, the lift shafts are topped off with more gold-coloured aluminium geometric panelling (although it would have been nice if at least one of the panels on each lift shaft had been replaced with a National Rail double arrow symbol). The plan is that the lift shafts will be landmarks within the wider regeneration area both during the day and at night, when the panels are illuminated. Yet these aren’t the station’s own lifts at all, being positioned away from the station entrance, though they do allow people with additional mobility needs to access the entrance without climbing the steps up to it. The station’s platforms, however, are served by much more visually modest lifts accessed from within the ticket hall.
There is a curiously lopsided feel to the station at present. There are three platforms: a two-platform island centrally located under the footbridge and a side platform on the west side. As the design of the station footbridge makes clear though, there is space available for another side platform on the east side, which will be added by 2023. Being London-bound this will be platform 1, meaning that for now the station oddly only has platforms numbered 2, 3 and 4.
The platforms themselves feel somewhat barren, not helped at present by the visually unappealing surrounding area. Away from the impressive overbridge, lifts and stairs, simple shelters and benches are the only passenger waiting facilities provided. That is probably acceptable for a commuter station where passengers are unlikely to be waiting for too long, but additional shelters or canopies might be needed in the longer term if passenger numbers build to the four million journeys per year expected as the wider Meridian Water area is built out.
For now, Meridian Water feels like a little like a ghost station. If it wasn’t for its shiny new design it would feel like a station whose time had come and gone – like Angel Road just up the line – rather than one with a busy future ahead of it at the heart of one of London’s newest neighbourhoods.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Karakusevic Carson Architects project page on Meridian Water station, here
Karakusevic Carson Architects project page on Meridian Water masterplan, here
Train operator Greater Anglia’s station information page for Meridian Water, here
See a film of the All The Stations team visiting Meridian Water, here
…and anything linked to in the next above