From the 1930’s to the early 80’s, Battersea Power Station was a working power plant, producing a fifth of London’s electricity and, at one point, becoming the largest power station in the UK- dubbed at the time the ‘temple of power’.
This imposing Art Deco brick building, with its four iconic chimneys has dominated the south bank of the Thames and has been a major part of my visual landscape growing up in South London in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. How many times have I travelled by train into Victoria, gazing out of the window, watching this building falling into disrepair and, in later years, major dereliction, wondering what on earth would happen to it.
There’s been talk of the redevelopment of this site for decades – some quite fanciful plans such as turning the building into an indoor theme park (thanks to Alton Towers). Many other proposals failed throughout the 80’s, 90’s and into the early 2000’s including turning the building into a hotel, offices and shops; apartments and a leisure complex; an energy museum and even a football stadium for Chelsea. All of them failed due to the enormous costs involved in the redevelopment of this important site whilst retaining its Grade II protected status.
Fast forward to 2022 and the greatly anticipated £9 Billion no-expense-spared redevelopment of this iconic brick temple of power is complete and open to the public. It’s a stunning restoration with incredible attention to detail – from the newly reglazed Art Deco windows flooding the cavernous Turbine Halls with light to the restored original gantry cranes, beautifully tiled walls, smooth polished concrete floors and soaring open brick facades – revealing reminders of its past history, warts and all. One of many impressive things you notice about this building reborn are the bricks – all six million of them – many of them missing or so badly damaged that they needed replacement. The original brickmakers were tracked down, miraculously still in business and tasked with hand-throwing 1.75 million new bricks to identically match the originals.
To its critics, and there are some, Battersea Power Station is indeed a ‘temple of power’ but not as per its original intention, but as a ‘playground for the super-rich’, where ‘every square inch has been monetised’. Luxury retail brands proliferate in the grand expanse of the Turbine Halls whilst multi-million quid apartments, some of them designed by ‘starchitect’ Frank Gehry wonderfully flex and writhe around the building.
It’s a super impressive revisioning of the site. The power station has never looked better and whilst from some angles it feels hemmed in by the additional development, I think it all hangs together rather well.