Fringe Box



Opinion: The Latest Station Design From Solum is a Disgrace

Published on: 27 Nov, 2015
Updated on: 27 Nov, 2015
Artist's impression of the latest plan for a redeveloped railway station from Solum.

An artist impression of the latest plan for a redeveloped railway station from Solum.

By Martin Giles

Am I the only person outraged at the latest offering by Solum for a redeveloped railway station for Guildford?

I actually felt angry when I saw the last artist impression. It was as if Solum was deliberately giving two contemptuous fingers to our town and the views we have expressed.

The image presented is of a characterless, oversized, carbuncular monstrosity, intended only to swell developer profits, not enhance the beauty of our town.

Imagine waking up to see such a building and then trying to guess where you were: anywhere in the western world, that’s where. It’s just blah, and a big blah at that.

That we wanted a station that reflected vernacular style was made clear at the very first consultation meeting. It was obviously the feeling of most present.

But I suspect that it did not tie in with the briefing Solum initially received from the council planners some years ago. The predilection of Guildford Borough Council’s planning department seems to have been for  a contemporary style of architecture, a prejudice which also dictated the design of the new Waitrose store.

We should not take this lying down. The architecture of our station is important. It might be privately owned these days but it is still an important public building, especially in a town hoping to perform a difficult “modal shift” in the way we move about, a shift that needs more people to use public transport.

In fact, this new proposal does will do nothing it to improve the functionality of the station, obvious evidence of the commercial priority at play.

In any case, we should have a station that reflects the historic importance of the railway to Guildford. We might not be a railway town like Swindon, York or Darlington but the railway has been very important to Guildford since its arrival in 1845; it has had a huge impact and was the biggest single factor in the growth of the town to its present size.

Despite that growth our Victorian forefathers still managed to retain and create more style in the town than we have been able to in the post-war period when many of the planning decisions taken were shockingly bad.

They achieved this with some shameless copying of past architectural styles that would today be dismissed by trendy architects as pastiche. Well they should think harder and listen more to popular opinion. Where are the buildings from the late 20th century that we can imagine being cherished in 100 years time?

I pray that the council will show some backbone and dismiss this latest insult with the scorn it deserves. I would rather see them over-ruled at appeal than come to some dreadful compromise with developers who seem to have commercial interests at heart.

Let the remote planning inspectors, marching to the tune of a Conservative government, dare to inflict this on our Conservative town with its Conservative council. Surely there is only so much of we voters can take before we wake up and actually consider what effect our votes might have.

Oh and if the architects are wondering from where they should draw their inspiration then how about St Pancras or Battle or Huddersfield?

Huddersfield Station

The classical proportions of Huddersfield Station with St George’s Square in the foreground.

Sir John Betjeman wrote in 1960: “Railways were born in England. The early railway architecture of this country is therefore of more than merely national importance. It is the beginning of the whole history of the Railway Age.”

Railway’s are not finished, its heritage, its architecture and its future are still important. And they are important for us who live here, who use or pass by the station and, of course, for our visitors.

Why can’t Guildford help lead a movement away from our recent cheap, unattractive, profit motivated, recent architectural past? Why can’t we build a station of which we can be proud? Even a station to which people will travel just to admire?

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Responses to Opinion: The Latest Station Design From Solum is a Disgrace

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    November 27, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    A fine piece of writing and a well thought out reaction – as you say it looks like nowhere – or anywhere modern – Guildford has a quality of its own which we are losing.

    I trust our planners do not let us down.

  2. Roslyn McMillan Reply

    November 27, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. The original plan was grotesque. To call the new design anything better than nondescript would be an exaggeration.

    A town’s railway station should reflect its importance as much more than a transit area for commuters. It is the place where travellers first arrive and from whence they leave. It deserves dignity and integrity of design.

    What Solum appear to be offering is yet another slab-sided development of the type to be seen in many dull towns all over the country. Surely Guildford deserves something better?

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 28, 2015 at 8:19 am

    I for one chose not to live in Croydon. Now it appears Croydon is coming to us.

  4. Brian Miller Reply

    November 28, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Don’t hold your breath.

    Solum have already built similar approved schemes at Epsom and Walthamstow Stations where both councils are certainly from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

    Money counts.

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    November 28, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Solum Regeneration’s scheme is an out and out property development project.

    Improvements to platforms are non-existent and provision for bus bays is totally inadequate.

    A double height station entrance is unlikely to be useful unless rail users are going to suddenly get substantially taller in the near future!

    Platforms need lifts to the footbridge and provision for toilets where connections are made from these in addition to facilities at the main entrances.

    Pedestrian route from the railway station to the town centre should be free of road crossings and therefore safer.

    This could be achieved by a high level walkway, enclosed for protection from the weather.

    If this is accepted as desirable, why not take the customers from the footbridge level to such a walkway rather than taking them down to ground floor?

    No need for a double height entrance but an entrance at the higher level of the footbridge seems sensible.

    The length of the walkway up to Walnut Tree Close (WTC) could be incorporated within the proposed building facing WTC.

    Existing entrance and ground level routes would of course remain available. If and when a new footbridge from Guildford Park Road over the tracks is considered, this could join the elevated walkway and thus a comfortable route to the town centre could be created avoiding all road crossings.

    As for the architecture, a landmark appearance should be aimed for and I agree with Martin Giles, the proposed facade is unimpressive to say the least.

    I like the existing building. It has the character of a solid brick built traditional appearance, so why not replicate it?

    Adjacent multi-storey blocks of flats should also have brick features, so that they blend in better although they are likely to be steel-framed buildings.

  6. Pauline Surrey Reply

    November 28, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    It is still much too high, and will ruin our lovely view from the castle mound over to the cathedral.

    I recently received a letter [dated November 25] from the planning deptartment [Guildford Borough Council], saying that one could comment on the application.

    Comments to be sent in no later than 21 days after the date of the letter.

    I suggest all those like us who are horrified, should write in.

    [Ed: Pauline has asked that a link be inserted to the application on Guildford Borough Council’s website. Here it is.]

  7. Bernard Parke Reply

    November 29, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    It is time for Guildfordians to speak out against this project and other current ones which will do nothing for the quality of life for those of us who actually live here.

    Sir John Betjeman was once reported as saying: “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough”.

    Do we really want to live in a town which could well court a similar response from future generations?

  8. Jason Shipp Reply

    November 29, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    I agree with the overall feeling that the designs are grotesque and do not fit in well with the town.

    I have seen better looking public toilet designs based on historical architecture!

    Why is it that the architects perceive that we need to go completely modern?

    We live in a town with history and in the Surrey Hills, as well as a station with history.

    I feel that looking to the appearance of the new station, as rightly mentioned “they should draw their inspiration then how about St Pancras or Battle or Huddersfield?” Maybe they should take leaf out of the ‘Steampunk And Retro-futurism Style’.

  9. jim Allen Reply

    November 29, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    I normally choose not to comment on ‘design’ as it’s a ‘personal thing’ for critics in arty papers to comment on.

    But really, can no one do any better?

    Reminds me of my visit to the Tate Modern. The man with the cheque book had clearly been conned by people claiming to work under the generic title of ‘artist’.

  10. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 30, 2015 at 8:34 am

    This eyesore has come about through the council executive’s obsession with doing grand things, as part of their ‘trajectory’.

    Yet another vanity project for the leaders to crow about.

    This comes after plans to concrete over the countryside in the interest of growth at any cost, £3.5 million upgrading the council offices to match their egos, Armed Forces Dday, and messing with the museum, theatres, and Stoke Park.

  11. Terry Stevenson Reply

    November 30, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Old looking is good – new looking is bad. Simples!

    That said, when York Minster or St Paul’s Cathedral were first built, I dare say some then said that they were out of place and imposing.

    Time is a great healer.

  12. Bob McShee Reply

    November 30, 2015 at 10:50 am

    What Solum is proposing is not a station redevelopment, but only a development of railway station land on the east side of the station.

    There are no improvements planned to the platforms which could enhance the access facilities for passengers, particularly for those with a disability.

    A good example of a station redevelopment is Reading, where the platforms and railway track capacity has been increased to cater for the future growth in passenger numbers.

  13. Mary Bedforth Reply

    November 30, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    If this is part of ‘the big picture’ quoted elsewhere, you can keep it.

    It is hideous CAD design and build stuff, totally unsympathetic and much like G Live, another monstrosity.

    Well said Mr Giles and commenters.

  14. David Wragg Reply

    November 30, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    I agree that high buildings will spoil many of the views across Guildford and should be avoided, but let’s just bear in mind that Guildford was never a grand station.

    In fact, apart from Waterloo, the old London & South Western Railway did not provide grand stations and even Waterloo was built in four stages before being rebuilt between 1910 and 1920.

    Until 1858, Guildford was on a branch line from Woking that terminated at Godalming.

    Everyone seems to be giving the station airs and graces that are, shall we say, above its station.

  15. John Robson Reply

    December 1, 2015 at 9:56 am

    This just seems to be indicative of every major development issue within Guildford at the minute.

    The entire council appear to be like rabbits in the developer headlights, everything is too parochial and reactive.

    Nobody within this council / Executive seems to have the vision or the ability to see the big picture, nor do they appear to possess the commercial accumen or fortitude to take these developers to task.

    As for the Solum proposals, this is just a snapshot of the draft local plan, glossy brochure, low-cost development to extract the maximum profits. Scratch beneath the cheap facades, the infrastructre just isn’t there.

    It’s just like opening your Hornby train set on Christmas Day and finding an IOU for the tracks.

    And who cares if it wasn’t a grand station, there’s no future in history, make it one now.

    • Keith Reeves Reply

      December 2, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      OK, so let’s have some examples of a similar local authority which is achieving fantastic things and how we can learn from them?

      I’m starting to feel sorry for poor old Guildford Borough Council, they really can’t win.

      They get criticised by the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) regarding the lack of a town centre masterplan (TCMP).

      When a TCMP is produced – by GVG’s favourite architectural practice – it’s broadly welcomed by the GVG. Yet the complaints continue and, in contrast to the TCMP, fail to acknowledge the constraints which make major transformation of the town centre a formidably difficult problem, e.g. geography, transport issues, development mistakes made over decades which are difficult to overcome, and the fact that you can’t just re-model an urban area at the drop of a hat in an advanced democracy.

      I know people like to put the boot into the council whenever they can regarding the things they don’t approve of, but this isn’t a council-led project. It’s a proposal from a ‘regeneration’ partnership between Kier and Network Rail, a government-owned company.

      I’m not sure I share Bibhas Neoghi’s views on the current station building – it’s a bland late 1980s design which could be anywhere.

      As for the suggestions to adopt a vernacular style, I’m struggling to envisage what this would be for a large public building in Surrey.

      Examples anyone?

      I’m not sure we really want an Arts and Craft style station, if such a thing can be envisaged.

      Huddersfield station looks great in the photo but it has nothing to do with the local vernacular, being an example of neo-classical style.

      • Bibhas Neogi Reply

        December 2, 2015 at 10:27 pm

        All you could find to comment on my posting, Keith Reeves, is that you do not share my views on the current station building. Fair enough. You have your likes and dislikes, I have my own.

        What about the more important issues like the actual improvements to the platforms, a safer and comfortable all-weather pedestrian high level walkway to the town centre and a safer route altogether from Guildford Park Road as well if GBC has the foresight to consider funding these out of their Community Infrastructure Levy they are to receive from Solum?

        And what about non-provision by Solum of multiple bus bays on the station forecourt for all bus routes connecting the railway station as part of creating a transport hub?

        Criticism of GBC and SCC are not without reasons. They have done nothing for the last two years to improve the gyratory – only talked about it and held exhibitions etc. They have sat on the funding of £2.9m they received from M3 LEP and have probably lost it by now.

        So please concentrate on the aspects that matter not on the superficials.

        By the way I have no ‘h’ in my surname!

  16. Jenny Procter Reply

    December 2, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Guildford does not have a history of visionary or creative planning, the cathedral being a case in point!

    If a particularly basic and ugly recent student housing building in Walnut Tree Close is an example of what our planners allow, the developers who this government are now saying they will directly financially support must be laughing all the way to the bank. Cheap, easy build early Legoland.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Martin Giles that it is time voters take a long look at who they are electing if we are to have any impact at all on the future development of our towns and villages.

    The government has done a U-turn on every issue that has become too controversial but they are getting away with murder when it comes to housing and planning.

    The figures supporting massive growth are questionable and the crisis in housing has been largely created by their policies which reduce social housing, allow foreign buyers and corporations to invest in and keep large amounts of property empty forcing prices up and people out of centres where they live and work.

  17. Barry Williams Reply

    December 3, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Let’s take the emotion out of the debate. This is first and foremost a commercial development for housing, offices and retail space, with a minimal bonus of a larger ticket office and passenger (should that be customer?) concourse area.

    The question is how to make this development something of which Guildford (and Solum) can be proud. Something that we can look back on in 50 years time and say that was done well, something that is an example to other ambitious towns.

    The Dragon, your correspondents and other worthy bodies that have helped to bring this debate to life should be strongly encouraged. Let’s hope that the community also get into the pros and cons and come along to the public meetings that will be held surely be held on this issue.

    Most will be apathetic and disinterested. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Their will be many forms of objection to the style and design, the material finish, the height, the massing, the impact on views and conservation areas and much more besides – on technical, planning, transport and viability issues.

    This is not a complete station redevelopment. There is no concession to “customer“ access to the platforms by lift or escalator from the existing bridge and of course no plan for development on the west side at this juncture – but maybe these will come in time?

    The footprint allows for pedestrian pathways leading to a footbridge over the River Wey and providing a safer route into the town, plus the protection of a site area for a future pedestrian foot bridge across the railway tracks, possibly separate to the station complex.

    These are to be welcomed, but where is the bus/train transport interchange that many of us want, not just Joe Public, but also a respected and well known local bus operator who has made presentations in that regard? Can Solum better explain their thinking for this aspect of the forecourt operation?

    Why does the Solum proposal only offer 10% affordable housing? Our town needs a higher affordable ratio to be built in and it would be interesting to hear the arguments concerning the financial viability and to hear what may be possible.

    GBC also need to tell the community how this proposal fits within the existing 2003 Local Plan (it will be 2018 before you see the next one) and how the latest proposals (albeit lower in height) can accord with the height level recommendations contained within the recent Draft Town Centre Master Plan.

    The town faces significant development in the coming years. Are measures in place to assess the collective consequences as a whole (not just the station) for the bulk and massing, the functional uses, impact on traffic and landscape and the image or our town?

    We need to look at all applications in the context of the whole town’s development and not just on a piecemeal basis.

    We also need to protect sites for future road and rail crossings, otherwise it will not be a question of Guildford being a town to “ drive to but not through “ it will be a town to avoid with consequent effect on our local economy.

    It is to be hoped that Solum will again arrange a number of public meetings and viewings of their plans but this time please can they be accompanied by a scale model of the plot area set within the complete townscape so that we can assess the overall practical and visual impact. It’s chicken feed money to do so when set against the end profit level.

    Opportunities and challenges arise from the development of the Guildford station site. Sadly, I feel that Solum are not listening to what the people of Guildford want – I hope I may be proved wrong. A lot rests on the decisions to soon be made by GBC.

    I am a member of the executive committee of The Guildford Society but am writing in a personal capacity

    Why does my spellcheck always show SLUM when I type SOLUM?

  18. Peter Lloyd Reply

    December 3, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Create a box, cover it with glass. If only I had known architecture was so easy when I was a lad.

  19. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    December 3, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Interesting that Mr Stevenson refers to St Paul’s with regards to time being a healer – St Paul’s was a bad design and still is – perhaps impressive and imposing.

    Things must have form and or function otherwise they are a waste of energy both physical and mental.

    Sydney Opera House is an Unesco Heritage site because of its form and striking location, but it fails its function; the acoustics are awful.

    The Millenium Bridge was a great “design” which the designers predicted would be “a “blade of light” across the Thames, an absolute statement of our capabilities at the beginning of the 21st century”.

    Yet it famously failed in its function until the engineers got involved.

    I have also been involved with a building of stunning design which failed in its function as a building and as a layout for the winery which it was built for.

    And there are plenty of others Calatrava created.

    I believe form is not everything, however, this proposal is so beige, talking of nothing, being of nowhere and by all accounts doing nothing to deliver against its function either.

    What was the brief?

    Who is the one deciding this for Guildford? What is their vision? What touch stones are there to know whether it fits the brief and is a success? Was there a mood board to inspire? Was there a tissue meeting to make sure the parties were on the same page before things progressed too far?

    Having clarity at the start is essential in delivering against needs, form and function. I suspect there was none of this.

    Now back to St Paul’s. Time has not changed the fact that St Paul’s, was not well designed at all and, for many, the great bit of St Paul’s design is the dome. And even then Wren hated the frill of the balustrade which was added without him knowing. The dome was Wren’s way of trying to put right what others had forced him to do wrong.

    It is bad because it was a tug of a religious war between the baroque, associated with Italy and Catholicism, and the more austere style of the Anglican church.

    At the time we had the changing religions of English monarchs. Protestant Charles II was on the throne when Wren submitted his first cathedral design.

    By 1685, when Catholic James II was on the seat yet another “design” was forced into construction to fit in Catholic needs and wants.

    In 1711, when the building was theoretically finished, we had James II’s Protestant daughter, Queen Anne, pulling the design strings.

    Wren had to make hundreds of alterations to keep the various monarchs and clergy committees happy – at one point it was a Greek Cross, at another a Latin cross, then with a Gothic spire, then with his masterful dome.

    It was not good design, but a battle between the faiths and wishes of the powers that be.

    Was it any wonder that the Earl of Shaftesbury was right in attacking Wren in 17-something?

    Time has not been a healer with regards to St Paul’s.

    The dome saves it for many, which is Wren’s design, architectural, engendering and mathematical genius at its best. It was bad design and still is. Impressive, imposing perhaps controversial yes.

    Now getting back to the plans in front of us, as many of others have said above, time will never be the healer of such a bad design for this station regeneration; it does nothing, means nothing, says nothing, challenges nothing.

    It is, however, a great monument of nowhereness and nothingless to which, I’m sure, Guildfordians will flock to in 300 years and say “what a masterpiece, those planners and designers were inspirational in their vision of Guildford of the future”?!

    Time will not heal this one I’m afraid.

  20. Duncan McMillan Reply

    January 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I have been following the correspondence regarding this proposed development and would like to add my thoughts.

    Firstly, I share what seems to be the majority view that this is a tasteless and deficient scheme, which fails to address the essential problems it presumably purports to solve: namely improving the functionality of the station and providing attractive and affordable accommodation in what is already a very congested traffic area.

    I have no architectural or engineering background so I speak as a layman on those matters.

    It seems to me obvious that design and function must go hand in hand and aesthetic beauty is a matter of individual taste.

    That said there is usually a general acknowledgement as to interesting design and visual acceptability, neither of which are evident in the plans presented to date.

    Indeed, the prime motive here seems to be the maximising of profit with the resulting reduction in material quality and lazy design solutions.

    This area of the town is the scene of recent and current housing development along Walnut Tree Close, which is making the movement of traffic ever more difficult with lengthy access to and from the station at peak times.

    Instead of adding to this congestion surely planners should be concentrating on improving the access and egress to and from the station, which will become an increasing problem as rail traffic increases, as it almost certainly will.

    I cannot see this development other than a retrograde step and feel strongly that this plan should be rejected in its present form.

    In my view the station itself justifies much greater attention and improvement / expansion than is currently being given.

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