The Derelict Sensation: Way Station

Hilary Powell

Railway terminuses have historically acted as catalysts of urban revitalisation, capital and enterprise. St Pancras is due to become one of the largest passenger interchanges in Europe and the surrounding area is undergoing major structural and cosmetic changes as it prepares to become the ‘meet and greet’ location for the capital.
As the bulldozers and cranes move in, the twin clocks of Kings Cross attempt to keep time over this rapidly changing area. It is in this period of transformation that we took our place in the site where this fusion of past, present and future is most apparent - The Midland Grand Hotel.

The station and hotel were built as places of accelerated exchange and transit and the aim of “The Derelict Sensation” does not differ so greatly in it’s aims.
The advance of rail brought with it a changing force of perception of the environment and scale. This site responsive event also aims at a change in perception of the site.
Victorian supporters described the hotel as a “gothic phantasmagoria” –“ its value to the London skyline is inestimable…high as a cliff crowned with a pinnacled castle in a Grimm’s fairy story…drawing up with complete confidence into the sky assaulting rage of turrets”. (David Piper)
The romanticism surrounding the site remains as it has indeed become a “sleeping beauty” awaiting a new awakening in it’s complicated life cycle. Such romance now generates an income as the former hotel is in continual use as backdrop to events and film shoots. However, “The Derelict Sensation” aimed at moving beyond hotel as backdrop and emphasised the critical relationship and interaction between the event and the site - opening up the monumental to an alternative program or reading by the transgression of formal and cultural expectations.
Architecture today cannot claim permanent meaning as it is always open to the conversion of purpose and design. The long- term program for The Midland Grand as luxury hotel with loft conversions may signal a return to its original function devoid of the elements that caused its downfall. Technology has advanced, trains no longer spew soot and thunder and the hotel has coped with the insidious fumes of traffic for half a century. It was built to last and is determined to do just that.

Stations have always been places of theatricality and mobility. In “Remembrance of things past” Proust refers to them as “Tragic places, for in them the miracle is accomplished whereby scenes which hitherto have no existence save in our minds are about to become the scenes amongst which we are living.” They are places where things happen, where real life dramas occur and around which fictional dramas pivot.
This quotation is apt in reference to “The Derelict Sensation” drawing together myriad imaginations and interpretations of the site, linking fragments of the past and present and potential futures and composing them in new constellations.

Terminals are not only the end of the line –rather far reaching distribution points.
This actual two - day show in this terminus hotel follows the classic pattern of arrivals and departures facilitating a temporary rendezvous with the space and the artists and visitors. It is a relay, a trace – an in-between meeting place prompting a moment of shock or turning point in expectations highlighting value in the transitory.
As if touched by a passing strangers glance from a train in motion.


photographs by Gillian McIver