Little short of mind blowing, Westminster Tube station really is a destination in its own right. One of the reasons the station is such a fabulous structure is because of the extraordinary planning and building restrictions that apply in this area. While London skyscraper developers have to contend with the many bodies concerned with fretting over views of St. Paul’s from every possible angle, anyone proposing to build in Westminster has to not only make sure they don’t obstruct a view but also to make sure that nothing moves, nothing changes and the possibility that anything can be knocked down is remote to put it mildly. Imagine burrowing under Big Ben and knocking it an inch or two out of true. Not only would you probably make the news worldwide you would almost certainly enrage MPs enough for them to return from their holidays and, pausing only long enough to claim expenses, form a committee of investigation with a view to stripping you in advance of any possible knighthood or peerage (donations to the party would need to be pretty substantial to deal with something like this). Sarcasm aside this is not an easy place in which to build.
Leaving aside the practical problems there must also be a substantial temptation to succumb to royal/parliamentary pomp and kitsch and produce something addressing, to put it politely, that occasional London tendency towards cheesiness. What we got instead is an absolute triumph.
Architects Michael Hopkins and Partners also built parliamentary office overflow building, Portcullis House which, in my view, absolutely does fall into the trap of being afraid of its surroundings and consequently is a decidedly banal bit of work. All the more amazing then that they produced the jewel in the Underground crown directly underneath. Portcullis House and the new station were built together. The first challenge involved lowering the track bed on the existing platforms by about 300 mm to allow for the new ticket hall. Unlike a similar job at Aldgate East 70 odd years ago this was done millimetre by millimetre during the few hours each night that the system shuts down.
The main task though was to build a brand new station without undermining any precious surface buildings. To do this the four sides of a box were dug as trenches 39 metres deep. These trenches were then filled with concrete, forming the walls of the station box. You can still see the clay imprint on what are now the concrete walls of the station. Then the box was excavated and, as it was dug out it was braced horizontally to ensure there was absolutely no room for movement. The 17 escalators and intermediate floors to allow a zig zag arrangement were installed and with the very brave decision to completely avoid decoration the result is by far the most thrilling and exciting Tube station in London.