HS2 roofs

I have walked on a lot of roofs lately, and it seems to me to be a fine addition to the enjoyment of a building and the city in which it sits.

Most recently in Lisbon. With all the publicity for Amanda Levete’s MAAT gallery I had failed to appreciate that Amanda’s wave of a building was in fact a rumpled extension of the somewhat 2-dimensional landscaping that edges this part of the Tagus. Promenading along the promenade you can take the straight and level route or, with the expenditure of a little more energy, enjoy the views and the selfie opportunities afforded by the roof.

This is not of course new. In Oslo, it’s been 10 years since Snøhetta first allowed us to roam across their iceberg of an opera house, adding to this slowly emerging quarter of the city new areas for biding one’s time, angled towards the low sunshine and with views of the ferries as they come and go.

Admittedly neither roof is awash with physical or spatial components to encourage a wider range of leisure activities, but the potential is evident.

Of course, these are buildings that house activities for which natural light is not a benefit, and so a designer might readily consider and welcome the opportunity afforded by the roof as one way of ameliorating the urban impact of an otherwise largely blind edifice.

In the transport world there is no such restriction, so it is a little disappointing that while in Japan you can wander across Foreign Office Architect’s precisely laid shipboard and grassland roof of the 2002 Yokohama Ferry Terminal, the absence of openings does make for a rather stowage-class feeling below, where the penetration of more natural light would be quite possible and a distinct advantage to the experience of travel.


And so in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, I was pleased to experience the recently opened West Kowloon station, with its even more dramatic wave offering a range of clambering and picnicking opportunities, rewarded – at least until they build the cultural centres to the south – with wide ranging views across the harbour.  And despite the ability to walk and rest upon its roof along many different paths, when inside there remains a flood of natural light to bathe the waiting travellers amongst the chaotic-cathedral architecture. Think what you like about the building design and the political implications of mainland China arriving with a splash in the old Crown colony, this combination of internal/external public function and ambience is worthy of serious consideration.

And then I return to the UK and the published images of the new HS2 station roofs.

Don’t get me wrong, the great spans of Brunel, Barlow and their kin are wonderful, some of my favourite spaces, temples to our capabilities and gateways to our cities. But I do wonder whether we as UK transport promoters and designers are stuck with this 19th Century vision of a train shed as an exhibition of engineering prowess alone.  I wonder why, at a time when infrastructure and the urban facility of the city are so closely entwined in our conversation, we don’t make more of these acres of new roof to create elevated and accessible urban spaces that bring new pleasures and perspectives to our cities.

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