Waterloo International Terminal

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Waterloo International Terminal
The International Terminal Waterloo is a multifaceted transport interchange: a railway station which, in essence, functions like an airport. Located in central London, it is situated in a constrained urban setting accessible by road and rail, yet copes with the demands of 15 million international rail passengers per year.

The brief for this project was to build a 'streamlined terminal' through which passengers could pass with the minimum fuss at maximum speed. The allocated site, adjacent to the existing national rail station, was only just wide enough to accommodate the necessary five tracks. Limited by live electric rails on one side and shallow London Underground tunnels beneath, the terminal needed to be 'streamlined' structurally, as well as in terms of its internal organisation, in order to meet its brief. Understandably, many alternative schemes were proposed before the architectural team were satisfied that they had met their objectives.

The International Terminal Waterloo was designed to be a monument to the new railway age heralded by the advent of cross-channel rail travel in Britain. To this end, it complements the neighbouring Waterloo Station, but retains its own distinct identity signified, primarily, by its 400m long roof.

The roof is a feat of technical skill, its asymmetric form responding to the dictates of the site layout, specifically the westernmost track over which the roof must rise more steeply in order to accommodate the height of the trains. This western side is clad entirely in glass with the structure of the roof clearly expressed. Facing onto the main access road, it provides arriving passengers with an impressive view of Westminster and the River Thames and passers-by with a panorama of the 400m long Eurostar trains.

Structurally, the roof takes the form of a flattened, three-pin, bow string arch, with the centre pin moved to one side (allowing for the undulation in height from west to east). It is a necessarily complex structure designed to a long, sinuous plan that narrows from 50m at the concourse to 35m at the platform end. The cladding system is accordingly flexible, with a limited range of variably sized sheets of glass placed in an overlapping configuration that can flex and expand in response to the roof's various twists and turns.

The roof is the architectural focus of the Terminal and its magnitude belies the fact that almost 90% of the project is concerned with work carried out underground. This comprises the brick vaults underneath the mainline station, (refurbished to accommodate back-up facilities such as catering suites), a basement car park spanning the Underground lines and a two storey viaduct. Sitting on the foundation of the car park 'raft', this viaduct serves to support the platforms and accommodates two floors of passenger facilities: Departures and Arrivals.

The internal organisation of these two floors has been arranged with the easy orientation of passengers as a priority. Departures and Arrivals are assigned a level each, to encourage a single direction of passenger movement on each floor. For all customers, there is a clear, linear progression from their point of arrival in the terminal to their point of exit. Glazed escalators and travelators link each level with the platforms, their direction changeable dependent on whether a train is arriving or departing. Passengers leaving for Europe are carried up one level to enter the train while those arriving are carried down two storeys into the double-height arrivals concourse which, in turn, opens directly on to the street.

International Terminal Waterloo was completed in May 1993, within budget (£130m) and at no disruption to national rail services running from Waterloo Station. Since its completion, it has won a number of architectural awards, including the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion award for European Architecture (1994) and the RIBA President's Building of the Year Award (1994).


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