The complicated journey of the New Bus for London

The tale of Heatherwick Studio’s New Bus for London is on the one hand a story of updating a design icon – of creating an aspirational new vehicle that appears across the streets of the capital.


Source: Wrightbus

It’s also the story of a rash and unfocused promise made by a wannabe mayor, a complex design commissioning process involving a public competition, and rather inefficient sounding design process.

Merrell’s new book London’s New Routemaster admirably ties these strands together.

It’s authored by journalist Tony Lewin, a former editor of What Car?. Lewin’s journalistic skill comes not just in exposing the details of the commissioning process, but in doing this in an ‘official’ guide to the bus. Not only is this book approved by Transport for London, but it also includes forewords from Boris Johnson and Thomas Heatherwick and uses TfL’s Johnston as a headline typeface…

The plan to replace bendy buses with a new Routemaster was first mooted by Johnson in his 2008 mayoral manifesto. As Lewin notes, the plan lacked detail and rode a media wave of approval.


Source: Wrightbus

When Johnson was elected, he launched an open ideas competition, which attracted entries all the way from school pupils to architect Foster + Partners and car manufacturer Aston Martin, who won the ‘professional’ strand of the competition.

What it didn’t attract was entries from the serious bus companies – Scania, Wrightbus, Optare etc – who were keeping their powder dry for the official design tender they knew was approaching.

Northern Irish company Wrightbus emerged as the winner of this competition, and was appointed to produce the new buses. However, Wrightbus’s design work produced ‘a sense of disappointment’ among the TfL commissioners.

Fearing such an outcome, TfL had put a clause in the contract saying that any winner would have to allow a TfL-approved design consultant to join the project, at TfL’s cost. Having worked with Heatherwick previously on a newspaper kiosk project, TfL deputy chairman Daniel Moylan put the consultancy forward.


Source: Wrightbus

This complex story – and the equally complex design process that led to the bus’s creation – is told throughout Lewin’s book. It’s interspersed with details of the history of the Routemaster and design details of the new bus, to keep both automotive and design fans happy.

Lewin had access to some key players in the story and reveals some intriguing details about the bus – from thought to drawing board, to production, to road.

And what of those design concepts harvested from the initial public competition? Heatherwick apparently never even opened the envelope they were in.

London’s New Routemaster, by Tony Lewin, is published by Merrell priced at £25.

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  • Frances Faulder November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    “Cheers Heatherwick…”
    – Frances Faulder, Public Competition Winner (18+)

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