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Elizabeth Line

Fred Mills

The Elizabeth Line at Paddington station ©Crossrail

“...For me what’s most impressive is the breathtakingly well- choreographed marriage between architecture and engineering..“

Fred Mills

Since I was a young boy, I’ve always found myself in awe of construction and architecture’s ability to shape our lives. Our buildings, infrastructure and public spaces have an incredible influence on the way our wider society functions – how people travel, where they learn, where they are treated when they’re unwell, how they feel when they wake up in the morning.

The tunnelling machine in action ©Crossrail

While almost every part of the UK’s built environment touches our lives in some way, few single projects could have had more of an impact on so many people than London’s new Elizabeth Line.

I have followed this project since it’s inception. I remember feeling blown away by the scale of the engineering ambition and by the projected economic impact that one construction project was expected to have on the UK’s economy.

The tunnel boring machine is lowered into the chamber 40 metres below ground ©Crossrail

The scheme was of course beset by well-reported budget issues and delays and it’s right that the industry’s leadership learns from these mistakes. But taking some of the higher-level management challenges aside, what construction teams have achieved here is undeniably immense. Enormous new tunnels – much larger than those found on conventional London tube lines – have been meticulously plotted and painstakingly carved out in between the services, foundations, archaeology, and other transport services that all run below one of the world’s largest and most historic cities.

Completion of Stepney Green sprayed concrete cavern 40 metres below ground ©Crossrail

When the new railway’s central section finally opened in May 2022 the result was stunning. I took a ride through the very heart of the city on opening day and suddenly became that young boy again: utterly in awe of what this industry can achieve and the impact it can have on so many. More than a million journeys through these spaces were recorded just within the first few days of services commencing.

All of this had been created beneath our feet – in the middle of this massive city – largely out-of-sight and with relatively minimal disruption

Canary Wharf Elizabeth Line station ©Crossrail

For me what’s most impressive is the breathtakingly well-choreographed marriage between architecture and engineering. It’s like we have taken everything we learned from reimagining spaces like Kings Cross and Westminster’s new Jubilee Line tube station in the decades prior and then built on it tenfold. The result is series of cathedral-like stations on the central section that speak to the best of what this industry can achieve. They’re easy to navigate, light and spacious; using design to create a feeling of calm for those on less than calming commutes.

Black death victims found during the construction of Charterhouse Square ©Crossrail

The story of their engineering is on display for all to see. Essential structural functions are celebrated and embraced into the architectural design; simultaneously creating the perfect transport environments while triggering an impossible-to-escape sense of amazement for anyone that passes through them.

The Elizabeth Line Farringdon station ©Crossrail

We of course need more projects and investment like this spread more evenly throughout the country, but the Elizabeth Line now gives us a world-class set of shoulders to stand upon as we do it – and the perfect tool for inspiring a whole new generation of young boys and girls to make it happen.

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