Past, present and future collide in King’s Cross

By Sujata Burman

A network of canals, a variety of schools, global food culture and an international train line – King’s Cross is a hub of many things. And that’s long been the way for this area, where you’ll find remnants of its colourful past everywhere.

It’s one of the districts with the most tumultuous history, from the battle that took place here between Queen Boudicca and Roman invaders, right through to the rave era and its famous warehouse clubs. There are years of stories held in structures like Coal Drops Yard and the Gasholders that still loom large on the skyline – all of which add to the specific and special personality of King’s Cross.

Today, King’s Cross is constantly developing as a cultural centre. Not only does it have one of the world’s best art and design schools, Central Saint Martins, but many companies call this place home – from Tom Dixon to tech firm Google. Walk along the cobbled pathways of Coal Drops Yard and you’ll find a considered curation of shops, eateries and bars. There are public squares, green spaces and fountains, big screens, markets, community facilities and much more to come.

In November 2021, King’s Cross became carbon neutral, thanks to the combination of using 100% renewable energy, having energy-efficient buildings and offsetting historic carbon emissions – an important step towards its goal of becoming net zero carbon. These sustainability goals are reflected in the district’s projects, too.

The Super Nature initiative at King's Cross is dedicated to exploring circular design, materials and production methods that have a positive impact on people and the planet. As part of LDF 2021, tutor and designer Peter Marigold unveiled ‘The Unboxing Show’, highlighting the potential of waste cardboard he procured from Coal Drops Yard.

This year, the ‘Woven Wonders’ sculptural installation by renowned artist Sheila Hicks took flight – “suspended like the warp threads of a colossal loom between two old coal storage buildings.”

Responding naturally to the elements, the vibrant piece made from soft materials – which have been repurposed to take on a new life – moves in contrast to the Victorian architecture and nods to the textile industry of that era, connecting the past, present and future.

There are plenty of permanent artworks in King’s Cross, too. One that stands out – it’s 16m-tall – is Eva Rothschild’s sculpture in Lewis Cubitt Park, ‘My World and Your World’. Inspired by nature, it also functions as a bright meeting point, a marker under which to have a picnic and play. “We lie down beneath the tangle of steel branches and the city belongs to us,” says Rothschild. “The sculpture allows us to carve out this new space for ourselves. We don’t just look, we are active within it.”