38: The new London bus

Like spotting a rare bird, I’d seen the beautiful, new London double decker buses from afar for the past few months. With only a few on the roads (started with 7 in Feb 2011, now up to ?) I would narrowly miss one as it drove off from a bus stop, or chase after another to take a photo. They had eluded me until yesterday – I had my first ride, and I wasn’t disappointed!

Designed by the inspired Heatherwick Studio in London (this post has just had an Olympic update, because Heatherwick also designed the beautiful Olympic flame caldron – see below for a video), its the first time in 50 years that London has commissioned the design of a new bus specifically for the city. The result is a beautiful homage to the curves of the old Route Masters but with a definite future facing ethos. Utterly contemporary in look and feel (asymmetry abound) but also utilizing the latest in hybrid technology (40% more efficient than the current London diesel buses), they are most certainly a confident and intelligent solution, but not without some sentimentality for the heyday of double deckers, the complete combination of which, I find very pleasing.

The interior’s are simple and slightly underwhelming, though what more would they need? Probably nothing. The highlight is the restoration of the hop-on, hop-off, open rear door, like the old Route Masters had,  and with it, a second bus man (again) looking after that rear door. The bars for holding on to disappear into the ceiling in with a pinched profile that I really like. The fabric on the seats is as ugly as ever, though better-designed-ugly ; ) which also feels entirely appropriate. The London underground tube car upholstery has always been “unusual” slash ugly.

The exterior, however, is wonderful. Diagonal windows that follow the stairs upward (or downward), a diagonal slash of red on the front face, revealing a black under-colour, like Robin (Batman’s Robin) lowering his mask to reveal his true identity, and another widening slash of window on the rear leading to the hop-on/off door. Truly beautiful and imaginative, while being completely functional at the same time. More light in the bus, more views of the city, and better visibility for the driver.

We now have at least 3 (maybe 4) generations of double decker buses on the London roads, including the old Route Masters that still have a few token routes. Most of them, regrettably, have been relegated to Wedding transport!

Thomas Heatherwick writes:
“It has been 50 years since a bus was last designed and commissioned specifically for London. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a team to look again at the opportunities for a new open-platform bus. It has been an honour to be asked by London’s transport authority to take an integrated approach and design everything that you see and experience from the outside down to the tiniest details of the interior.”

Olympic Update: Heatherwick studio design the incredible Olympic torch caldon. Quite a year for Heatherwick Studio: a retrospective show at the V&A, the new London bus, and now the Olympic caldron. To see it action watch this BBC footage from the Opening Ceremonies below:

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