diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 29, 2006

Battersea Power Station - electric cathedral

For a short few weeks this autumn there's been a unique opportunity to take a look inside one of London's most iconic buildings. Battersea Power Station has been opened up as a temporary art gallery, hosting a range of modern work from China, and it's attracting large crowds. But the real magnet is the building itself, its quartet of ivory chimneys rising into the sky like beacons from a bygone age. I've been, she's been, he's been, and you've got one more week to go yourself. Before the new owners transform it into something more 'contemporary'. Hurry now while history lasts.

The past: Battersea Power Station was built by a private consortium in the 1930s in an attempt to stave off creeping nationalisation. They commissioned Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to build a giant generating station by the Thames, far larger than any previously built in the capital [photo]. He began with a huge steel girder box, then clad it in brick and placed an Art Deco turbine hall in the interior [photo]. The futuristic control room had a marble floor and could only be used by operatives wearing felt-soled shoes. The new generating station saw Londoners safely through World War Two, somehow avoiding major bomb damage. The original building was extended by the addition of a second turbine hall in the 1950s [photo], increasing the number of chimneys from two to the now-familiar four. Battersea belched away for a couple of decades more until increasing inefficiency led to the closure of first one turbine hall and then the other. The site went dark on 31st October 1983, and the building has been decaying slowly ever since. Various plans for restoration have been put forward, but the planned theme park never materialised and the Tate Modern ended up inside Bankside instead. The two turbine halls were gutted anyway, just in case.

The present: What a great idea to host an exhibition of Chinese art inside Battersea Power station. Quite frankly any excuse would have done, just to get the doors open again and allow London inside. It was an opportunity I couldn't to miss. You get a decent view of the power station from across the river in Pimlico or from any passing train, but the view stood right up close is so much better [photo]. The chimneys tower above you, the brick walls rise up like sheer cliffs and the broken windows echo with windswept loneliness. Inside it's much the same [photo]. For the exhibition they've erected scaffolding to allow you to walk out into one end of the boiler house, now roofless and open to the sky [photo]. It's a bit like standing inside a ruined cathedral, except that the nave is much longer, the towers are much taller and the glass is stained only by pollution. To each side are the two turbine halls, the first more photogenic than the second. Public access has been restricted to just one end, and you have to try hard to imagine each vast chamber filled with turbines, electrical switchgear and bustling workmen.

A narrow utility staircase leads you up from Turbine Hall B, past various frowning security guards, to three storeys of dark concrete workspaces. For the purposes of the exhibition these have been filled with Chinese art, mostly video-based. Even though you've really come to view the building instead, your attention suddenly switches to these animated windows on an emerging modern culture based 5000 miles away. It's a bonus, to be honest, that the art is a worthwhile sideshow to the surrounding architecture. One memorable installation is a wall-length wire cage filled with slowly-rotting apples, which no doubt by next weekend will smell even more like a tramp's Diamond White breath. Back outside the building the Chinese theme continues, with free bicycles provided for visitors to get around the site [photo]. It's not so vast that bikes are actually needed, but it's a nice touch and it keeps the kids occupied. And everywhere, both inside and out, a crowd of Londoners are snapping away trying to capture the perfect evocative photograph. Just my luck to visit on a wholly grey and overcast day, so my photographs lack the perfect blue backdrop that others managed on earlier visits.
• Tickets must be pre-booked. Book online for next Thursday→Sunday here.
• Arrive early, preferably before 12:30, because the weekend queues get very long very quickly.

The future? What next for Battersea Power Station? That question was answered, sadly, by a promotional video screened in a narrow chamber on the ground floor. Here the site's current owners, Parkview International, showcased their long-delayed plans. You can guess, can't you? The central building will become (buckets at the ready) "an epic space that can variously function as a market place, a concert venue, a product exhibition platform or a fashion and brand showcase." Essentially that's an umpteen-storey shopping mall. Outside, so the on-screen architect enthused, they're deliberately building modern "signature buildings" to provide a "yin-yang contrast" to the old power station [photo]. To the west a long thin "benchmark" hotel will block current views from Clapham and the railway viaduct, and to the east will arise a similarly obstructive "modular" conference centre. Parkview are also squeezing in some "weave-like" office blocks, a "flexible" 2000-seat auditorium and an "advanced concept" residential building, assuming Wandsworth Council let them get away with it. Oh, and they want to knock down the chimneys first, because they're unsafe. But they'll rebuild them, honest, and then stick a single restaurant table at the very top of one. Work may, possibly, begin next summer. Few watching the showreel seemed impressed by the promotional bravado.

The "Power Station" website is full of some of the most vacuous bluster I've ever read, and I truly hope that not all of this redevelopment comes to pass. I know it would be criminal to leave Battersea Power Station to waste away and crumble unseen, but does London really need yet another "destination venue" and "commercial focus"? Some of us think not. There were hundreds of culturally-aware Londoners swarming around the building yesterday, taking one last opportunity to enjoy its unique character and history. But I doubt that any of them will want to come back for a cappucino and some shoe shops.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards