Signposting the future

Complementing the architectural splendour of London’s St Pancras station
is a state-of-the-art model for retail transport signage, says Gina Lovett

Over the past week, people on both sides of the Channel have marvelled at the wonder of the newly restored St Pancras station in London, with praise being lavished on what has been called an admirable mix of old and new styles.

Although the historic conservation, architecture and engineering have somewhat stolen the limelight, branding, information and graphics specialists have worked to create a recognisable and seamless system spanning information and retail across the three sister stations of High Speed Line One.

Though the transitory stations of Ebbsfleet (Kent) and Stratford (east London), which make up the other two stations in the trio, can hardly boast the intended grandeur and romance of the ‘destination station’, St Pancras, the design of the information system is the same throughout.

Tony Howard, founder of Transport Design Consultancy and chief consultant on the High Speed Line One project, explains that Ebbsfleet and Stratford serve the ‘kiss and ride’ market, providing parking for more than 9000 vehicles.

He points out that both stations are, in fact, part of much wider regeneration projects worthy of their own merit, led by development groups such as Land Securities and the Thames Gateway initiative.

Lewis Moberly, which designed the St Pancras identity, also worked on the identity for Ebbsfleet.

The starting point for the information graphics, however, was St Pancras, with the original brief coming from Union Railways.

The roll call of clients has since grown to include Network Rail, London & Continental, and train operators Eurostar, First Capital Connect and South Eastern Railways.

Because St Pancras is Grade I-listed, English Heritage had to approve the size, depth, length, colour and placement of every piece of signage, graphics and information, according to Howard.

Other constraints came from the Strategic Rail Authority, which oversaw accessibility considerations, ensuring that lettering, characters, pictograms and language met the latest legislation.

Typeface specialist Dalton Maag was commissioned by Transport Design Consultancy to create a ‘highly legible, yet condensed font that would accommodate the long station names’ throughout the three stations.

Dalton Maag founder Bruno Maag explains that he created the Barlow typeface especially for St Pancras, naming it after William Henry Barlow, who designed the station.

Given that the station has been fitted throughout with state-of-the-art technology including wi-fi, touch-sensitive monitors and passenger information screens, considering all aspects was a real balancing act, says Howard.

The orientation of the station, with arrivals and departures above and below street level, was also a major factor in the organisation and flow of information.

The wayfinding of the station is arranged so that train services are grouped by the name of their operator, rather than by platform, with the intention of making it easier to navigate a multi-floored space.

The use of train operator brand identities is restricted to departure lounges and portals, maintaining consistency with the white out of blue corporate message, and avoiding overwhelming passengers with visual information.

The concept of the ‘hierarchy of signage’ – corporate message first, then advertising and retail – has been applied rigorously to St Pancras’ retail space, says chief architect Alastair Lansley. Length, size and depth restrictions have been placed on all retail signage and doorways.

‘Having worked on Liverpool Street with Tony [Howard], we learned that the retail desire for ever more razzamatazz can confuse the overall corporate message. All [London] stations suffer the same blight, in that the retail offering smashes out in front of you. The idea with St Pancras was to make the corporate signage a part of the design and rein in the commercial side of the retail space,’ says Lansley.

Designed by architect Chapman Taylor in conjunction with Arup and Rail Link Engineering, ‘the retail spaces have been an exercise in constraint’, he says.

For the arcade, Lansley explains that the brief was to make it feel more like ‘Burlington Arcade [in Mayfair, London] than Oxford Street’, with the emphasis on the brickwork and detailed structure of the old building.

The overall retail offer, which consists of 62 shops, combines the shopping circle in the ‘Undercroft’, the arcade, food outlets at platform level and a champagne bar managed by Searcy’s and designed by London group Inature.

London & Continental strategic property director of retail Mike Luddy chose retail selection consultancy Brand Story to cast the appropriate mix of upmarket mainstream and unconventional retailers in a bid to achieve ‘desirable destination status’ for the station.

Having restrained commercial signage and devised the right blend of retail names, a new retail transport model has been created, says Lansley. Network Rail’s original revenue expectation has increased four-fold,’ he adds.

Saintly figures 

  • High Speed Line One was first mooted as long as 20 years ago, after the first section of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opened in 1984 
  •  The new travelling time to Paris from London will now be two hours and 15 minutes 
  • The client roll call includes Union Railways, London & Continental and train operators Eurostar, First Capital Connect, South Eastern and East Midland Trains 
  • The architectural teams include Arup, Pascal & Watson and Chapman Taylor 
  • The original architect of the frontage of St Pancras – the East Midland Hotel – was George Gilbert Scott 
  • Sign companies include Doric, Blaze, Neon, Wood & Wood, Fusion Glass and Rivermead 
  • More than 1000 signs have been produced, including directional, locational, platform, emergency-exit, statutory, operational, safety and retail signage

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