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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Now you see it, now you don't…Isn't that where Battersea Power Station used to be?

May 2016, the view from the north-east side of Chelsea Bridge. Soewhere in there behind the flats is
Battersea Power Station.
On a misty morning in 2012, the developers are already preparing to start work on the first of the four chimneys.
That huge gas container to the left disappeared early in 2015. And, as the mists fall, so the power station itself slowly
disappears into the ether….

In all the advertising for flats in the redeveloped  Battersea Power Station area, there's constant reference to the building's status as a historic London landmark. In fact, as the developers are eager to point out, it is "iconic".

Those four great white chimneys rising out of the massive cathedral-like brick turbine hall are recognised anywhere on the planet, thanks to their appearance in numerous films and on certain album covers.

In recent months, however, you could do the classic drive south down Sloane Street and over  Chelsea Bridge and fail to notice that you've just passed what's left of this icon.
Heading east on the riverside path from Chelsea Bridge, you expect a fine close up view of the majestic facade of Battersea Power Station. Five years ago, yes. Today, this is what you see.

Obviously, three of the four chimneys are missing, awaiting replacement with the replicas which  the developers promise will be rebuilt to full height by late summer of this year. The one chimney in place is also a replica - the first one. It looks a lot like the old ones but the colour's wrong. All four new chimneys will be painted early in 2017, we're told.

So at least we'll be able to see those four off-white chimneys again, but that's about it for most of us. Whether driving past or on a train crossing the river into Victoria station, or from other parts of Battersea and south West London, the upper parts of those four chimneys are all we will see. Because the great bulk of the building will be screened by a densely-built labyrinth of enormous apartment blocks, to the west and south of the power station.
Developers' hoardings in front of Battersea Power Station, London: pious sloganeering
The writing's on the wall for the future of this place -
in this case a load of platitudinous developer-
speak about the importance of community, and how
they value this so much (see  pics below)

The biggest is already nearly complete - "Circus West", a great wall of 865 luxury apartments right next to the railway track, which is already blocking the view of the power station for road and rail passengers. From the riverside path you can just about see the top of the one remaining chimney.

In the final phase 6 of the redevelopment, a similarly huge barrier block will go up to the east of the station as well, completing its enclosure to all except views from across the river.

Developers' hoardings in front of BAttersea Power Station, London: pious sloganeering
Words, words, words…so, the power station is going
to be "browsable" is it? Can't wait.
Of course you will get "wonderful views" of the power station if you can afford a flat in Prospect Place, the Frank Gehry designed area of five of his characteristically wonky, titanium clad apartment blocks just to the south of the Giles Gilbert Scott's monster. Or, perhaps you could take a top floor suite in the proposed "Art 'Otel" next to these. Or stroll along the high-level Foster & Partners designed Battersea Roof Gardens, which will surely be open to all. Or, if not, then snap up one of the one-bedroom apartments, "from £590k". If you are not happy with anything in your new dream home, remember that Foster & Partners are just across Battersea Park, so you can deliver your complaint in person.

Of course, if the power station had been even slightly looked after in the 30 years or so since it was decommissioned, the developers might not have had to do so much drastic surgery. This is a question which only structural engineers with access to this much fought-over building could ever answer.
Er, was it not a real place before?

Anyway, to get back to my initial point, isn't it odd, how with all this talk of the regeneration of the Battersea to Nine Elms riverside, with all those Asian billions invested into a forest of new high-rise luxury apartment blocks, that somehow we were hoodwinked into believing that at least the developers would be preserving and glorifying the power station itself.

By the time the development is complete - what, about 2025? – it seems likely that the re-fitted power station building will be almost completely hidden behind vast cliffs of luxury apartments. Just think of all those very rich people up on their roof gardens, floating in their infinity pools, sipping on their cocktails, worrying about their investments, then looking down on the building that used to dominate the skyline for so many people in and around London, and thinking….what a weird old pile of bricks. Why did they bother to keep it?

Here are a few photos showing how views of the "icon" have changed in the past two years.

The power station in May 2012, when the area in front of the facade was turned into a Chelsea Flower Show
overspill attraction. It was one of the last times the public could get this close to the building. 

6th November 2014: the SW chimney nibbled down to half-height, the cranes are gathering to prepare for building the Circus West blocks. And a full gasholder.

14 March 2014, Netherford Rd SW8. Typical view from the time when Battersea Power Station seemed to loom over  every street in Battersea, Clapham North and Stockwell.

1 comment:

  1. Justine Landis-Hanley26 April 2017 at 20:26

    Hi Bill,

    I am writing from Neighbourhood Newspaper in Sydney, Australia. We would love to use two of the above images in this post for an upcoming article we are publishing by Will Self. We were wondering if you took the photographs yourself, and whether we could seek your permission (and high-res copies) to use them? If not, could you point us in the direction of where you sourced them from so we can seek permission from them?

    Your help would be greatly appreciated! Drop us a line at hello@neighbourhoodpaper.com.