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A Powerful Legacy

Jan 11 2007 13:09
Alex Morris
A look into how Battersea Power Station is set to be transformed.
Battersea Power Station in all its brutal glory

Each day on my way into College, I make a point of admiring the decaying carcass of the Battersea Power Station. The building, arguably one of the world?s greatest examples of industrial architecture, now lays abandoned on the south bank. But however decrepit this aging creation, it still retains a power to intimidate even the most egocentric architect.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the site and get a close up view of this iconic landmark.

Tiptoeing towards this daunting edifice, one is rapidly overwhelmed by its dimensions, the imposing art deco style adding such a heavy presence to this omnipotent structure. I hardly noticed the Orient Express as it stole into Victoria. And I could not help feeling slightly more privileged than those on board as I entered this temple to industrial architecture.

One of the reasons Battersea Power Station is such an important London icon is due to its two-phase construction. The first turbine hall (corresponding to the two western chimneys) was completed in 1939 following ten years of construction. Work on the second did not commence until 1953 following the Second World War and took a mere two years. Despite the coherent exterior of this monolith, the building hosts two interiors which demonstrate stark contrast.

The older western hall epitomises Giles Gilbert Scott?s grasp of the Art Deco style. The parquet floors, wrought iron staircases and Italian marble finishes hark back to a supreme age when no expense was spared. It exemplifies the frivolities of pre-war Britain. The extension is functional and economical by design. Gone are the architectural details and rich appearance. It is reminiscent of a time when London was frantically rebuilding after the war and desperate to increase its power generating capacity.

Together the two turbine halls fluently communicate how dramatically our city changed in the twentieth century whilst maintaining a constant image of success to the world outside.

There was a time, not long ago, when London nearly lost Battersea Power Station to the demolition crew. And its future has been persistently uncertain  since it went out of service in  1982. In 1993, the site was bought by a Hong Kong group for £10 million with an unfitting ambition to transform it into a theme park. What remained of the roof was ripped off and great holes were bashed through the curtain walling exposing the delicate metal framework to the elements. Plans for the theme park subsequently fell through; all the developers had achieved was a more hastily decline of the structure.

But all is not lost. The abuse and neglect Battersea suffered since 1993 ironically appears to have made the property more desirable. At the end of November, the carcass was bought by an Irish developer for £400 million. Battersea is now destined to be the focal point of an immense 14 hectare redevelopment comprising retail and office space, apartments, an auditorium and, yes, a theme park ride in one of Battersea?s four chimneys!

However, we can rest assured that the unique interiors which tell such an interesting an important story will be restored and made accessible to all; two parallel shopping arcades will fill the former powerhouse.

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