It is one of John McAslan + Partners (JMP)’s biggest British projects. But the £547 million ($886 million), multiphase overhaul of London’s King’s Cross rail terminal came with problems on a matching scale. Four years ago, when construction began on the project’s centerpiece—an outsized concourse for departing passengers—time was already tight. The 160-year-old King’s Cross station is a Grade I–listed historic building, and any plans required lengthy consultation. What’s more, no work could begin until the roof slab was in place for a new ticket hall at the London Underground station below, and rail authorities allowed no trains to be canceled during construction.

Yet the deadline was fixed: The showcase concourse had to be ready in time for this summer’s Olympic Games. Passenger numbers at King’s Cross—already one of the city’s busiest stations—are expected to rise steeply as people take advantage of the new Javelin high-speed train to the games site, which will leave from the neighboring St. Pancras terminal. (St. Pancras shares the same Underground stop with King’s Cross.)

These days, London-based JMP’s chairman John McAslan, Intl. Assoc. AIA, can look back with relief: After 15 years of planning, the Western Concourse opened in March, on time and to huge acclaim. The 47 million people who pass through King’s Cross each year—a number that is projected to increase by another 10 million by 2020—can now move easily through a 7,500-square-meter (80,730-square-foot) covered concourse that more than triples the size of the station’s previous forecourt and ticket hall. In the end, “the constraints became opportunities,” McAslan says. “But it was like an examination question where the answers had to be exactly tailored to all the conditions.”

Central to JMP’s design for the Western Concourse is the shell-like diagrid roof of glass, steel, and aluminum that rises 20 meters (66 feet) above the ground at its highest point. Engineered by Arup, the vast canopy splays out from a great steel funnel located a few feet from the historic station’s western façade. (Yet another constraint was that no additional load could be placed on the station wall itself.) Intersecting branches of steel spread downward, spanning out in a 74-meter (243-foot) radius from that central point. A ring of 16 supporting columns at the outer edge takes the load. With no supporting columns in between, the Western Concourse is now the largest single-span structure in Europe.

Outside, the semicircle of the concourse deliberately mimics (and, in fact, fills) the curve of the nearby Great Northern Hotel. Completed two years after the original King’s Cross station, the hotel was also designed by the same architect, Lewis Cubitt. The geometry repeats again inside the concourse, where a mezzanine level—supported by decorative iron brackets and covered with 5 million gleaming, white ceramic tiles, coated to repel dirt—follows a similar sinuous line. To meet the design brief from the station’s owner, Network Rail, the structure provides space for a range of shops and cafés that overlook the ground-floor plaza.

Inspiration for the roof’s airy glass-and-steel design came partly from the 19th century. “I have always liked the great Victorian glasshouses as at Kew Gardens,” says McAslan, who’s also a keen admirer of Grand Central Terminal in New York. But other influences, he says, included the soaring airports designed by Eero Saarinen—Dulles International in Washington, D.C., and John F. Kennedy International in New York. As at an airport, the departure and arrival areas of King’s Cross are now separate, and McAslan hopes that the elegance of the concourse will capture something of the glamour of air travel. (“Why should air passengers always be treated so well and rail passengers so shabbily?,” he wonders.)

Happily, this reflects the client’s own thinking. Network Rail wanted a building that was more than merely functional. “This wasn’t just about providing more space,” says Ian Fry, the company’s programme director for the Western Concourse. “We wanted something that would give passengers an uplifting experience at the start of their journey.”

Project Credits

Project King’s Cross Station Western Concourse
Client Network Rail
Architect and Master Planner John McAslan + Partners, London—John McAslan, Hiro Aso, Simon Goode, Pauline Nee (key project team); Jasmine Wadia, Mark Bell, Katherine Watts, David Jackson, Aidan Potter, Adam Brown, Philip Veall, Louise Hansen, Sascha Stscherbina, Michael Mason, Dean Kirkwood
Engineer for Roof and Platform Refurbishment and Footbridge to Station Tata Steel Europe
Engineer for Western Range and New Concourse Arup
Architect for King’s Cross Square Stanton Williams
Contractors Laing O’Rourke and Costain Group joint venture (Eastern Range Building); Carillion (Platform 0); Vinci Construction UK (platform refurbishment, footbridge, service yard, Western Range, and new concourse); Kier Rail (roof refurbishment); Osborne Co. (Suburban Train Shed roof repainting)
Cost Consultant Network Rail’s in-house commercial team
Size 7,500 square meters (80,730 square feet)
Cost £547 million ($886 million, total cost for the multiphase King’s Cross station redevelopment, of which the Western Concourse was a part)


Balustrade Design Rationale; Marsh Bros. Engineering Services (repairs)
Blockwork Walls Swift Brickwork Contractors
Booking Hall Fit-Out A. Edmonds & Co.
Conservation Works Cliveden Conservation
Ceilings MPG Group (corridor, plaster); Design Rationale (stainless steel cladding)
Doors Houston Cox (fire doors); Prima doors (steel doors)
Flooring Gormley Group (Western Concourse granite flooring)
Glazing LeeWarren (glass-wall cladding to public toilets); SkyLight Solutions (roof light)
Heritage Plasterworks Simplicity Mouldings
Masonry Gormley Group (Granite and York stone); Pyramid (brickwork, copings, sills, and cornices)
Mechanical/Electrical NG Bailey
Metal Hatches Bilco
Mezzanine Building Shell Swift Horsman
Painting K&M McLoughlin Decorating
Toilet and Shower Installation Houston Cox
Roofing Mundy Group (Western Range building roofing); Seele (Western Concourse roof structure and cladding)
Screeding Advanced Screeding
Shopfront Screens Houston Cox
Soft Flooring AC Flooring
Southern-end Infill Glazing WrightStyle
Handrails Design Rationale
Station Overlays LeeWarren
Storage Essex Woodcraft; Piper Joinery (storage, cabinets, tables)
Structural Works McGee Group
Walls Design Rationale (stainless steel cladding); MPG Group (plaster)
Wayfinding Houston Cox (signage)