diamond geezer

 Tuesday, August 16, 2016

If you've not been through Nine Elms recently, you may be surprised how much the area has changed.

That's not how Battersea Power Station looks now, that was how it looked in 2009, but I could have shown you a photo from 2013 and it would have looked much the same. Not today.

A forest of cranes has shot up, rising from the foundations of the latest phase of development, fed by daily convoys of lorries carting supplies in and taking rubble away. The first phase is already up, squeezing in 800 luxury apartments beside the railway and screening the entire western side of the power station. The interior of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s elemental masterpiece is next, a much more mixed-use development, transforming the interior into on-brand retail units, entertainment spaces and premium penthouses. The upper lateral walls have already been removed to ease the changeover, and of course the chimneys have come down too. Sulphur damage had made them dangerously unstable, and the developers were forced to replace one before removing the other three to prove they had the building's heritage in trust. I'd say these replacement chimneys are going to be utterly key to the success of the final project, because nothing else of the original power station is going to be visible once the surrounding apartment complex is complete.

Except from the other side of the river, that is. Only from the Thames, or from the embankment at Pimlico, will the majestic profile of the power station be unblocked. Something has to pay for the redevelopment of the site, and even ridiculously expensive apartments won't fill the coffers unless there are as many of them as possible. It's also essential to extend the Northern line, because the new residents would never stoop to taking the bus, and work on the station is now very much underway. You won't yet see much above ground level, only the stack of portakabins where the engineering types hang out, but that big gap in the wall in the second photograph above is the gate all the delivery lorries rumble through. There have been 'issues' recently after the height of the building the station was due to be constructed underneath was increased, but if all goes to plan you'll be able to ride the tube to do your Christmas window shopping at Battersea's designer mall in four years time.

Several other housing developments are planned nearby, crammed into every corner of brownfield space, and the Nine Elms area has more than most. First to be completed is Riverlight, a spectrum of crystalline blocks in prime position on the Thames. Their residents live privileged lives on the upper levels, with a coffee shop and 'tavern' on the ground floor, plus pristine flowerbeds and lawns on which dogs are absolutely not allowed. Their buildings are at least distinctive, which is more than can be said for the much larger cluster arising across Nine Elms Lane. The lift shafts I saw last time I was here have blossomed into mundane blocks of New London Vernacular, nothing architecturally special, indeed standing in the midst of them I could almost have been in Barking. But this is Embassy Gardens, the development that'll have the sky pool, the elevated glass-bottomed swimming pool that got everyone worked up when plans were first announced last year. And the supermarket on the ground floor is a Waitrose, obviously, because the target residents wouldn't be seen walking into anywhere else.

Alongside is the other flagship project in the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area, specifically the new American Embassy. Amazingly it's nearly complete, a giant glass cube encased in a rippling metal lattice, with additional silvery undulations attached for good measure. Security when it opens next year will be extra-tight, hence the construction of a landscaped 'moat' outside, this as yet unseen. But for the time being you can wander up almost to the perimeter of the site unchallenged, to read the numerous safety-is-really-important notices and watch the dangling workmen perform aerial ballet. Spreading out beyond are a number of almost-ready apartment blocks, and liftshafts about to become apartment blocks, and demolished depots preparing to sprout liftshafts, and further depots awaiting demolition. The residential potential of these tightly-packed acres is phenomenal, not that anyone expecting anything loosely termed 'affordable' should get their hopes up.

On the opposite side of the railway viaduct is the only other station on the Northern line extension - Nine Elms. Sainsbury's generously sacrificed their car park, and their supermarket, to allow construction of the new station and are now reaping the rewards. The same footprint of land now contains a sealed-off plot of underground workings, a stack of highrise buildings reaching up to 20 storeys, and a gleaming orange-paned supermarket receiving its finishing touches inside and out, with staff preparing to open next week. It's an astonishing change of land use in barely three years, and stands in sharp contrast to the much lowlier council estates on the adjacent roads. Their residents are about to get a direct tube service to the West End, which will either strengthen and boost the local community or turbo-charge its downfall. By the look of the half-shuttered parade of Portuguese shops on Wilcox Road, commercial prospects are already weak even before the new hypermarket opens its doors.

Nine Elms remains very much a neighbourhood in flux, bearing only the first fruits of what's yet to come. The western rim of the power station and the blocks near Waitrose may be complete, but the next five years will see almost unimaginable levels of further redevelopment as Concierge City finally takes form. If you're planning to move in, well done, and I hope you enjoy your shoebox with its view of the balcony of the flat opposite. [14 photos]

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