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The 2015 Open City Architour with the Arriva London Heritage Fleet


RM 2217 parked by Russell SquareThis year’s Open City once again provided a thoroughly enjoyable and imaginative Mystery Architour, with the Arriva London historic Heritage Fleet bus RM 2217, itself an iconic piece of design, transporting the lucky ballot winners on a trip in London from Russell Square to Stratford, taking in St. Pancras, Kings Cross and the Boundary Gardens at Arnold Circus.

Our two guides for the tour were Joe Kerr, a lecturer at RCA and part time bus driver with Arriva London, and Paul Lincoln, the Deputy Chief Executive of the Landscape Institute. The theme for the day, as they explained, was to show how architecture, the landscape and people have interacted at various points in the history of London.

Lime tree arch in Russell SquareThe first treat was to see how the Georgian influence, combining these elements, brought about the development of such beautiful spaces as Russell Square, with its tree-lined walkways and ample open spaces.

The next stage introduced the group to RM 2217, which had been parked up on the other side of the square. Joe explained its importance in the history of London transport and everyone was eager to get on board, but also to have a photograph taken with her.

The Granary Square previously the railway yardsPaul indicated that the next stop would be quite an eye opener, as the bus made its way down onto the Euston Road past the refurbished facade of St Pancras and then the new square outside Kings Cross Station.

The bus took a sharp left after Kings Cross and as Paul explained further, our next stop was to be Granary Square, where everyone would alight to see the now redeveloped area of the old railway yards that, until a few years back, had been closed to the public.

More new buildings behind Kings CrossFountains, a canal, St Martin’s work areas, cafes, a natural swimming pool, a skip garden and an amazing array of new housing development and work areas, was just the tip of the vista that awaited. Plus, a clear view of the difference in heights of the two stations, Kings Cross and St Pancras, in the distance. There was so much to take in and experience, we could have spent the whole day there, but Joe and Paul had other plans.

The canal used to bring coal and grain to LondonBack on the bus, we headed east again to Arnold Circus, the site of the very first social housing project, initiated in 1889 by the new democratically elected London City Council. They had the task of clearing a place known as the Old Nichol, which had become the worst slum in the whole of London. All of the rubble from the slum was placed in the centre, and a mound built with a park on top to cover it, and then around the mound the housing was erected.

London's first Social HousingNewton, the Routemaster bus driver, had kindly stayed with the bus each time it stopped, so no one had to carry their bags and coats whilst walking. On returning to the bus again, it was explained that the last stop would be the Olympic park at Stratford to see the regeneration of the area, and the legacy that has been left in terms of housing and parks for the local communities.

The site of the Old Nichol now Arnold CircusAt Stratford everything is new and modern, and so it was an interesting contrast to see the old historic Heritage Fleet Routemaster parked up outside Stratford Station at the end of the tour, again demonstrating the interaction of the landscape, people and architecture in all of our everyday lives, exactly as Joe and Paul had set out to illustrate back in Russell Square.

Our thanks go to Joe and Paul for their excellent tour and commentary, and to Newton the bus driver who delivered us safely and in style to our various destinations.

The old railway yard plaqueJoe Kerr holds a first-class honours degree in the History of Art from University College, London, and an MSc in the History of Modern Architecture from the Bartlett School of Architecture, London. He joined the  RCA in 1998, where he established the Critical and Historical Studies programme in 2001. He is responsible for teaching history and theory to students in the Architecture and Vehicle Design programmes. He is also a part-time Arriva London bus driver, working out of Tottenham Garage.

RM 2217 at Stratford, the old and the new at the end of the tourPaul is the Deputy Chief Executive of the Landscape Institute. He manages the team that develops and implements the Institute’s policy programme, public affairs, marketing, internal and external communications, the journal, events programme, sponsorship, competitions, awards and knowledge services.

The  Arriva Heritage Fleet is part of Arriva London and offers organisations and individuals the opportunity to hire these historic vehicles for events and special occasions. Arriva London works closely with Open City to supply these vehicles for free for the Architour, as part of their contribution to the communities they serve.