Crossrail Connection: Designing the new Elizabeth line for Transport for London (TfL)

Read Time: 6 minutes

The 2022 SEGD Wayfinding + Placemaking Symposium will feature a keynote address with Julian Maynard, Managing Director of the Maynard Design Group. He will present the keynote address on Thursday, August 4, 2022, titled “Creating the Elizabeth Line.” 

When the new Elizabeth line (Crossrail) opened on May 24, 2022, accessibility to London via the east and the west grew. The new line stretches more than 100 kilometres from Reading and Heathrow in the west through central tunnels, across to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. It will stop at 41 accessible stations, 10 of them new, and is expected to serve up to 200 million people a year. 

The line, when it is fully open, will add around 10 percent more capacity to London’s rail network, and the high frequency services will allow an additional 1.5 million people to access central London within just 45 minutes. For a sense of the project’s scale, the new line is built to accommodate 1,500 passengers per train and 24 trains per hour moving through central London.

A number of firms worked closely with the client, Crossrail Limited, and other key stakeholders to realise the project’s complex design. Additionally, each of the new central London stations had its own design team, which encouraged the project to embrace local character within the architecture. Atkins provided project management and full engineering services, architectural and expert technical advice; Grimshaw oversaw the overall line-wide design concept; and GIA Equation provided specialist technical and design guidance on the lighting. The Maynard Design Group led on the signage, wayfinding and graphic information design, as well as providing specialist industrial design input across the family of components. Upon opening, 10 distinct components were delivered as part of the line-wide design package: tunnel cladding, platform edge screens, signage and wayfinding, flooring, lighting, seating, poster frames, fire equipment cabinets, handrails and balustrades, and communication equipment integration. Together, we helped bring consistency through a family of finishes and components that provides the ‘common thread’ through the different station environments.

 

Project Details

Spatially, the line-wide design encompasses aspects of the ticket hall, escalator, concourse and platform environments and offers passengers an easy-to-navigate environment that is unique to the Elizabeth line. The consistent design language is strongest within the below-ground spaces of the five new tunnelled stations due to their similar functional requirements: Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel. As a connected whole, the project has created a city-like underground network for people to move through. 

Within the new below-ground environments, there is a consistent material palette and approach to detailing within a unified spatial geometry. For example, one of the earlier design inspirations came from the English Navy, where a red thread was twisted into ropes used in a ship’s rigging. This idea of a consistent element linking disparate parts became a core part of the design approach. Additionally, a neutral colour palette within the common spaces provides a visually quiet backdrop for Transport for London (TfL) colour-branding, wayfinding information, and advertising. 

Passenger wayfinding was critical to the project’s success, due to the large tunnel environments. For context, the new platforms reach up to 240 metres long. Because these stations are a different scale to what people will expect, it required us to anticipate what information passengers will need, at what time, and in what place. Also, the needs of arriving passengers are quite different from departing passengers. For example, when you get off the train, you need to know your interchange or final destination, as the stations have two ticket hall exits. Different stations, such as Farringdon or Barbican, place these in distinct locations. For this reason, having a clean back wall with directional signage and the introduction of Legible London maps provide the passenger with information at critical decision points. Similarly, the departing passenger has real time information on the service destination above each platform screen door. Tunnelled areas, visually uncluttered to ease wayfinding, are further supported by lighting that complements the experience. There is warm indirect lighting in spaces where people wait or orient themselves, and cooler direct lighting in transit spaces. 

While the zoning of information is essential for passenger wayfinding, the zoning of technology and architectural systems ensures that stations are designed to stand the test of time. The concept started with the need for a sign at the lower concourse, the crossroads of directing people to the east or westbound platforms. The Maynard Design team saw an opportunity to use this point to accommodate products, lights, speakers, camera, even tape barriers. They collect these products and leave the walls free of clutter. The same approach was taken with the Platform Screen Wall; the team likes to call it ‘a hard working product’. Grouping technology into defined elements such as totems, platform edge screens, and equipment cabinets helps ensure consistent servicing, maintenance, and replacement across stations. Technology elements are deliberately located at a low level where possible, and are designed to provide safe user-friendly access. 

In addition to offering passengers a familiar aesthetic, standardising a number of elements also reduced design and construction costs. The standardisation of tunnel geometries, for example, reduced the number of cladding panel types and lowered costs by increasing economies of scale. Through such standardisation, the design team designed fewer individual elements and had more time to refine concepts through mock-ups, prototypes, and benchmarks. This is most evident in the craft behind important passenger touch-points, such as seats and handrails, which create a consistent experience across all stations. 

 

Parting Thoughts

Julian Maynard, Managing Director of the Maynard Design Group, shared his perspective as a key collaborator on the monumental project. He explains:   

“Throughout this whole collaborative design exercise, the customer’s experience has been at the very heart of what we’ve tried to achieve together. We’ve aimed to give travellers a seamless, calm and intuitive journey, and to provide a functional and inspiring place for staff to work too. 

Until now we’ve only experienced the Elizabeth line (Crossrail) as part of the project team, being largely underground on site, or in factories, seeing our original vision, mocked up, prototyped, and finally installed throughout the stations. Now we get to experience it with other members of the public who I hope will enjoy travelling through these environments in the way we intended them to be used. Hopefully we can enjoy it as passengers rather than pouring over each detail along the way.

Not everyone who uses the Elizabeth line will realise the effort that went into every detail, the passion into every nut and bolt and the part of our lives the project has become and, actually, we don’t want them to think about that. Our job will be complete when people have a smile on their face as they move through the stations on their journey.”

 

Looking to dive deeper into how the Elizabeth line came to be? We encourage you to join us for the 2022 SEGD Wayfinding + Placemaking Symposium. Sign up to participate in the event today.

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