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HS2 boss Higgins hits back at 'depressing' design jibe

High speed rail project promoter HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins has hit back at criticisms levelled in the architectural press at his project’s planned use of standardisation as a means to boost efficiency.

Higgins had been accused in NCE sister title the Architects’ Journal of having a “depressing” view of design.

It quoted leading architecture competition organiser Malcolm Reading, who was disparaging of Higgins’ preference for standardisation to bring costs down. Higgins told AJ last month that HighSpeed 2 (HS2) promoter HS2 Ltd should adopt a similar approach to that used on the Olympic Village where only the façade details of buildings differed.

The AJ has been pushing him on whether he would consider running an international design competition for the proposed Colne Valley viaduct on the HS2 route through Buckinghamshire. Higgins said there was no need.

Reading, who has organised international competitionsfor projects including the Guggenheim museum in Helsinki and Olympicopolis at the London Olympic park, supported that view and said Higgins should learn from the example of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

He told the AJ: ‘It’s a depressing outlook if the man charged with building one of this century’s key pieces of infrastructure can only offer us standardised structures and economies of scale. I’m all in favour of value for money, but why should this be at the expense of good design creating a sense of place and wonder?

“Brunel designed and built utterly diverse yet superbly integrated bridges, tunnels and stations for the Great Western Railway – a piece of infrastructure built to exceptional standards for the time.”

But last night Higgins said that while he was “unashamedly” seeking best value for the taxpayer he saw no reason for the project’s designs to “satisfy mediocrity”.

Higgins was speaking at the launch of HS2 Ltd’s design vision, a document which sets out the three core principles that will guide the project’s design, and ensure it is a project that is “admired around the world”.

It will be policed by a 40-strong independent design panel chaired by eminent architect Sadie Morgan. Morgan said her panel is intended to act as a “critical friend” of HS2 Ltd and its work.

“We have a huge responsibility to the general public to hold HS2 Ltd to account. HS2 needs to work not only for its passengers but for all the communities it affects. It should respect and enhance the environment and stand the test of time,” said Morgan.

“I have confidence that with an influential design panel we can ensure that HS2 provides an outstanding passenger experience and best value to the nation.”

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, also speaking at the launch, added that there are few design opportunities like those presented by HS2.

“We want HS2 to be a world class railway and to achieve that we need excellent design. The HS2 Design Panel has a vital role to play,” he said. “Together we will make HS2 into something that can truly transform our country.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • Barry Walton

    The invoking of the railway God, Brunel is always reassuring, but, from Dan Cruickshank's "Brunel - the man who built the world" p121, Brunel had envisaged a grand terminus (at Paddington - after the owners of GWR and the L&BR had fallen out over their best option of building a joint station at Euston) but GWR could not afford it and Brunel "fitted a temporary station, mostly built of timber...". Meanwhile the great man designed engines that had insufficient pulling power and the whole scheme had to be rescued by prime movers from Robert Stevenson and GWR's rising star, Daniel Gooch.

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  • I live in Rochester and know many of the HS1 structures well. The Medway bridge is a cut above the two adjacent motorway bridges and many of the others look good while having a clear "HS1" style.


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  • A "40 strong .... design panel"!!!

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