BATTERSEA POWER STATION – A MIGHTY FALL A H I S T O R Y O F T H E P O WE R P L A N T
THE BATTERSEA POWER STATION• If you’ve got a pair of eyes, and you’ve been to London, then you’ve probably seen Battersea Power Station. It’s kind of hard to miss. Its huge chimneys rise into the air like monolithic landmarks, and although the height of the building isn’t exactly comparable to a skyscraper – it certainly feels rather large when you’re standing in front of it.• It’s an icon, that’s for certain. Battersea Power Station was recently put on the market, and there is now extensive debate on what should be done to redevelop this historic landmark. So, let’s have a look at this iconic buildings history – and maybe have a look into its future too.
BACK BEFORE THE BLITZ• Battersea Power Station has that very distinctive industrial feel. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a building that really exemplifies the industrial revolution. This is how it looks to us now, but originally it was a pioneering new design intended to bring power to the crown jewel in Britain’s empire – London.• Built in the 1930’s by the London Power Company, they chose the site so close to the river Thames in order to make use of the water for cooling. Many people were outraged by the plans to build a big industrial building so close to London’s center, fearing it would be an eyesore and might pollute.
• But Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a man behind iconic designs including Britain’s famed red telephone boxes, came in to reassure the public with a pleasing design for the building – and construction went ahead.• It was finally completed in 1933, and six workers died during its construction.
ONCE OPERATIONAL• Battersea Power Station was a coal-fired plant, meaning that coal was burned in order to power electricity producing turbines. At its peak, the station required 1 million tonnes of coal a year to operate. Coal was delivered right to the front of the building via jetties, thanks to its position so close to the river.• As a coal-fired power station, water was required to heat the steam used to propel the electrical turbines. The water was pulled in directly from the Thames and used to power the plant, after which it was cooled and returned back into the river. This was an efficient cycle, aided by the power stations proximity to the river.• As power technologies improved and Battersea was providing electricity less efficiently than rival plants, the decision was made to close the power station in 1975. By this time a generation of Londoners had come and gone, and many people had lived their entire lives with the building as an iconic part of London’s skyline. Therefore, efforts were made to declare it a landmark.
AS AN ICON FROM 1975-1983• Campaigns to grant the building listed status were successful, thus protecting the buildings structure during any kind of redevelopment. For years it languished as an iconic building without a use. It became an empty shell on the inside.
• Alton Towers proposed a theme park for the site in 1983, one that would be based around the industrial history of Britain, and the site was purchased. The proposal was granted, but after work had commenced, the project was scrapped due to lack of funding. The cost of this abandoned work to the structure of the building has been substantial, portions of the roof were removed and the site has since been prone to flooding.
• The new owners attempted to adjust their proposal from a theme park to a mixed commercial office and retail space. Once again the proposal was granted, but no further work ever took place. And so Battersea languished once more as a structural icon, without any specific function.
AS AN INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT IN THE NINETIES & NOUGHTIES• The site had accrued a lot of debt due to it’s virtual abandonment, and after a lengthy legal process of buying the site – Hong Kong’s Parkview International bought it with plans to develop it into a shopping mall. It was to be called The Power Station.• There were significant protests against this. This particular idea involved building many other buildings in the surrounding area that would dwarf the original power plants structure; it was argued this would take something away from the majesty of the building.• More difficulties were encountered when it was found the iconic chimney structures needed extensive repairs to be made stable; some even suggested that new ones be built in their place – which led to further protestations from locals.
AS A LANDMARK CELEBRATION OF HERITAGE• The site was bought for a whopping £400 million by REO in 2006. They immediately scrapped the proposal from Parkview International and commissioned celebrated Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly to create a design for the sites redevelopment. Vinoly had worked in Britain before, designing the Curve Theatre in Leicester.• The new plan was to cost £4 billion. It involved extensive renovation. Included within this was an extension to the London Underground, at a cost of £500 million. Also included was the building of a biomass power station, a modern reflection of the buildings industrial past, and an accompanying energy museum. An eco dome was also in REO’s plan.• However, after extensive planning and fundraising – the financial crisis rocked the world. Suddenly REO had all it’s lenders and creditors calling in what was owed for the best part of 6 years and the project collapsed under its own weight, having become too financially cumbersome to manage. This was officially announced in late 2011 – and the building languished once again.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS• Several bids for the site have been put forward since the collapse of the REO project. One in particular involved demolition of most of the building; it was therefore rejected due to the buildings listed status. This proposal, put forward by architect Sir Terry Farrell, was to make the site into an urban park.• Chelsea Football Club declared an interest, though they didn’t propose anything concrete, in moving their clubs ground to the site. It was however considered detrimental to the buildings internal structure – and the idea never took off.
• The power station was put on to the open market in 2012, sending Battersea estate agents into a frenzy as whomever bought it would encourage extensive regeneration in the area. Malaysian developers SP Setia and Sime Darby have now bought the site – meaning they will have a legal obligation to maintain the building whilst a redevelopment plan is drawn up. What does the future hold for Battersea Power Station? Who knows?
AN ICONIC & MAJESTIC STRUCTURE• Whatever the fate of Battersea Power Station might be, it’s plain to see that it is an absolutely iconic building. It is historically significant and an ever present in the popular culture of London.• From it’s depiction on Pink Floyd’s album cover for ‘Animals’ to its inclusion in Monty Python’s film ‘The Meaning of Life’, it’s clear to see that this icon permeates the hearts and minds of all who gaze upon it.• So whatever the future holds, let’s hope it’s as rich and vibrant as the affection people have had for Battersea Power Station since it’s opening in 1933.