As a sophisticated cat I have always had a liking for the dramatic entrance. So you will no doubt share my recent dismay as I was strolling around the iconic Cardiff Bay (or Bae Caerdydd for those of you who want to know nearly as much Welsh as me). People seemed very relaxed as they sipped their cappuccino’s and cool beers, gazing out over the sun-drenched waters where the waves form a shimmering dance only briefly interrupted by a passing pleasure boat. The Millenium Centre glistens in various shades of gold and bronze, and the Pierhead Building projects a bold gothic majesty in red, facing out towards the seven seas. The Senedd houses whatever it is that government does these days, as we all look up in wonder at the weird funnel shape on its roof, waiting for the puff of white smoke that will signify that something useful has been uttered inside.
Such a mesmeric place deserves a grand entrance… but if you are arriving by train the only item that probably would escape the call of the council tip is the somewhat less than inviting welcome sign at the station:
Now, originating from London I am used to the idea of run-down places looking to re-invent themselves. Everywhere you look is trying to become a new centre of leisure… the newest place to drink coffee and buy loads of stuff you don’t need. But, you at least need to make an effort at the front end of the business if you want to attract the punters in (that’s a free business tip I will pass on to you from Sean, who we met last time I spoke with you).
Let’s take the St. Pancras and Kings Cross area of London for example… it has a long way to go to catch up with the development of Cardiff Bay, but they are working on transforming the area behind the stations (previously known more for the pleasures of the night, available 24/7 so I am told, by sources who were told, by sources who might have been in the know, or not). As you approach St. Pancras you are greeted by a very imposing building:
Meanwhile, back at Cardiff Bay you could be forgiven for not feeling, well, imposed upon:
The station entrance at St. Pancras radiates a sense of the opulence that might just be lurking within:
Whereas that at Cardiff Bay just lurks:
Furthermore, gazing up at the roof structure tells a further story of the fine detail that goes into making a building that will inevitably dazzle all who come into it. For St. Pancras there is one of the world’s great iron roof arches:
Meanwhile, for Cardiff Bay there is a clear statement of being at one with nature, a place where conservation of the natural environment takes precedence over the demands of the built environment:
And then there is the issue of time… where iconic clocks are designed to draw your attention and help to order your day. For St. Pancras there is no mistaking the clock above the platform entrances:
As for Cardiff Bay you may be forgiven again for having to search around a bit (there is a working clock on the building across the road in the picture), or perhaps make sure you haven’t forgotten your watch!
Now, us cats may seem like we spend most of the day snoozing in between serious bouts of sleeping, but we still have a strong appreciation for irony. Perhaps there is a deliberate plan in Cardiff that travellers arriving for the first time to witness the delights of Mermaid Quay and the Bay, are invited to take a somewhat Narnia-like transition ‘from the ironic to the iconic’.
Even the modes of transport between our comparative sites have something to say about these two places… take St.Pancras for example, you always have a chance to be travelling on one of the country’s leading ‘iconic’ Javelin trains:
Whereas, down at Cardiff Bay station, every 12 minutes you get the chance to see and travel on the ironic ‘bubble car’ train, as it is described on the Wikipedia page for our somewhat rusty and dilapidated ‘gateway’ to the Bay.
The history books tell us that this station down the Bay was the site of the first steam train in South Wales, and for that it has become a listed building. What we don’t need the history books for is the reason why, if you are coming from Cardiff Queen Street to the Bay (the only two stations on this line), the best thing to do on a dry day is… walk!
The Bay will never have or need a St. Pancras style station, but to a casual laid back cat, this is not a building I would seek shade under, for fear of the building itself being so laid back it might just collapse on me. An iconic station could be small scale and innovative in design, or probably even restoring the current pile to something reflecting its history. I have been Juno, sharing a little social comment with you until we meet again soon.