Claire Weldin, MArch, ‘98 Goes Underground at King’s Cross Station

Claire Weldin, MArch, '98
Claire Weldin, MArch, ’98 (Public House)

Claire Weldin took her master’s degree in architecture to London a decade ago, “fascinated by the complex structure of cities: the multiplicity of urban experience and, underlying it, the presence of the past.” Today, as an Associate with Allies and Morrison Architects, she is leading the £370 million phase 2 King’s Cross Underground Station redevelopment.

Weldin feels very much at home across the pond, and has wanted to return ever since her first trip as an undergrad. “There’s just something about London that gets under your skin, and I wanted an adventure.”

Having an impact on 110,000 commuters during rush hour? Now that’s the ticket!

London’s Underground is the oldest subway system in the world; the first section opened around 1863. King’s Cross is the oldest and busiest Underground station, serving more than 73,000 passengers who pass through it during the morning peak alone (07:00-10:00). This number is expected to rise to 110,000 or more during the London 2012 Olympic Games. The transformation of the station into a contemporary hub for international and domestic rail services began in 2001 and will be completed by 2010. Phase 1 refurbished the existing ticket hall and constructed a new “Western” one, opened to the public in 2006. In Phase 2, Weldin leads the design and construction of a new “Northern” ticket hall, new pedestrian tunnels to the Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria line platforms, and a fully accessible station, with step-free access to all London Underground lines.

King's Cross Station: oldest and busiest Underground station in London, England.
King’s Cross Station: oldest and busiest Underground station in London, England                  (ARUP/Allies and Morrison)

Her to-do list includes passageways and background walls with mosaic tiling; hubs with stainless steel wall cladding; transition spaces; the Northern Ticket Hall with folded acoustic ceiling; and customer service areas with stainless steel wall linings. Not to be forgotten are surface and materials, graphic objects, and interactive public elements; customer information and signage; advertising space; access hatches and fire extinguishers; and back of house elements (doors, risers).

The hard-hat project also requires extensive monitoring and testing of work in the tunnels to ensure that buildings above, particularly those that are heritage listed, are not impacted adversely. Ventilation, too, must be addressed.

A train blurs by as it speeds into a tunnel, leaving King’s Cross Station

Previously an associate director at one of London’s large commercial practices, Weldin has experience in complex, mixed-use projects. When employed by a small, design practice, she led the refurbishment of Cannon Street Station for Network Rail and also enjoyed working on hotels, “with their complex programmatic requirements and high expectations for a unique experience.” Clients there included the Lowry Hotel in Manchester, the Baglioni Hotel in Kensington, the Ambassador’s Hotel in Bloomsbury, and a new hotel at Nottingham University.

King's Cross Tunnels for the Northern Line, Picadilly,  and Victoria routes.
King’s Cross Tunnels for the Northern Line, Picadilly, and Victoria routes.  (ARUP/Allies and Morrison)

A native of Seattle, Weldin received her undergraduate education from Wellesley College and Wesleyan University. Her interest in architecture grew out of her concern with uncontrolled urban growth that she saw destroying the unique environment of the Pacific Northwest. She spent the year following graduation in Great Britain and South and Southeast Asia “studying at the urban morphology of historical and new towns.”

Qualified to practice in both the US and the UK, Weldin has served on the board of the American Institute of Architects UK Chapter. Several years ago, she founded Public House, “a group of architects and other professionals in the built environment who enjoy collaborating on idea-led projects.” In addition to being a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, she’s a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (described as “achievers and influencers from an extraordinary range of backgrounds… committed to civic innovation and social progress”).

She came to Berkeley for an architecture degree, she says, “wanting something different.” As a grad student, she worked on site in the Bay Area and was especially interested in San Francisco’s Chinatown, drawn to it because “it was urban, very dense, and had a lot going on.”

Weldin says her Berkeley training has had a strong influence on her work so far. “Berkeley helps set your feet on the path,” she explains. “In the field of architecture, you learn over a great period of time — it’s a lifelong pursuit. The Berkeley faculty completely realizes that — they’re not out to create a mini-me. At 37, I’m just at the beginning.”

— by Lisa Harrington (originally published in The Graduate magazine, Spring 2009)

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About Lisa Harrington