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Return of the Routemaster: London's iconic bus makes a comeback

From Atika Shubert, CNN
November 25, 2011 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
The new Routemaster bus has been designed by Thomas Heatherwick. This is an artist's impression of how it will look on the bustling streets of the UK capital. The new Routemaster bus has been designed by Thomas Heatherwick. This is an artist's impression of how it will look on the bustling streets of the UK capital.
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old routemaster front
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • London's Routemaster bus is getting a 21st-century makeover
  • English designer Thomas Heatherwick has created a stylish successor to 1950s icon
  • Three sets of doors and two staircases included in new design
  • It also features a rear platform and improved lighting and fuel efficiency

London (CNN) -- The Routemaster bus first appeared on London's streets in the 1950s and quickly became one of the city's most recognizable icons.

Now, six years after it was phased out, English artist and designer Thomas Heatherwick is taking inspiration from the famous Routemaster to re-define the look of London buses.

With an international reputation for inventive and playful work, his approach blends sculpture with engineering.

In 2010, the Heatherwick Studio created a dramatic Seed Cathedral -- a mass of acrylic rods with plant seeds on every tip -- for the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.

Iconic London bus gets makeover

Turning the most commonplace public transport into a work of art proved to be an equally challenging feat. But in collaboration with vehicle manufacturer the Wright Group, the double-decker bus with a difference is becoming a reality.

Improving the passenger experience was a critical consideration in the design process.

Take the lighting, for example: Current buses tend to be lit with fluorescent tubes which isn't the most flattering light, says Heatherwick.

"That's what's tends to be used to illuminate a piggery," he jokingly says.

Introducing some of the lighting techniques that are now used within interior environments is a very simple thing, but we feel it will make a very big difference to the experience
Thomas Heatherwick, designer

"So introducing some of the lighting techniques that are now used within interior environments is a very simple thing, but we feel it will make a very big difference to the experience," he adds.

The new bus also has three sets of doors and two staircases, which means you can get passengers on and off more quickly, Heatherwick says.

"That means you are more likely to get a bus that is on time because that means you are not waiting for huge queues to get on or off."

Heatherwick says the new bus is greener too, with a hybrid engine which will be 40% more energy efficient than a standard bus. It also doesn't shudder when it's stationary.

"It's going to be much quieter and calmer," he says.

The prospect of a calmer commute to work is one to relish in a bustling city of around 12 million people.

Passengers can look forward to getting on board the new buses early next year, in time for London's Olympic Games.

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