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An Industrial Cathedral
The power is back on at BPS
I know, there are a lot of people talking about Battersea Power Station these last few days. This won’t take long. I’ll give you a brief reaction, a snippet of history and a bunch of photos I took.
So it opened with a ‘festival of power’, and boy was it busy - I headed over on Sunday afternoon and the platform of the Northern Line extension resembled a mid-week rush hour rather than pleasant Sunday afternoon meander. Thankfully BPS is huge and could swallow up a lot of the crowd, but I’m not sure even the optimists would have predicted the immense turnout. I struggled to grab a drink, partly because I was busy taking photos and also every coffee shop had a queue to the door!
Did you know… the power station you know was built in two (and a bit) phases, twenty years apart. The first (the “A Station”) opened in 1935 eight years after the idea was first proposed by the London Power Company. To appease those against the plans, the scale of which was unheard of, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was commissioned to design the exterior which he did with 6 million bricks. The internals weren’t neglected either and included many art deco features and details, some of which are still present today. The A Station only had two wash towers and chimneys - the symmetry we know didn’t ease the eye until 1955. I’m glad they evened it up with B Station, albeit that was added in two parts and from 1944 to 1955 there were three.. yuck.
The colossal, coal guzzling giant served the capital, delivering 20% of London’s power at peak. But although it was once cutting edge, the 1970s Clean Air Act spelt the beginning of the end for the city centre coal burner. Emerging plans to decommission caused it to be neglected, however public affection for the brick beast had built over time and it received Grade II listed status in 1980.
From what I have heard, it sounds like this was both a blessing and a curse - such status limits what can be done in terms of redevelopment, which is likely to be partly to blame for the building sitting derelict until 2012, especially given it was upgraded to II* in 2007. Even this new, multi-billion pound lease of life splits opinion because the critics argue the planning authority conceded on too many ‘red-lines’ in order for the Malaysian owners to proceed with the build.
I do think there is an argument that an opportunity has been lost to create something amazing for the public, but perhaps we must accept that those days passed London by in the naughties - in the world we live today a project of this scale and ambition was only ever going to happen if it was commercialised. Whilst some may be saddened and wonder what could have been, I was still mightily impressed with the scale and details I saw while simply wandering through.
Hope you enjoy the photos. All taken with my phone.
I haven’t really mentioned any details of the new space itself or the incredible effort from the Contractors to deliver this behemoth. Maybe I’ll get to those in the future…
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