For someone who has grown up in London, Battersea Power Station has existed as an object of strange fascination and wonder. A feature of the London skyline, the iconic riverside venue, famous partly for its central place on Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover, has sat dormant all my life, a remnant of old, industrial Britain.
As a child, I had questions about this strange, inactive structure:
• What was it?
•What was it used for?
• Why has no one done anything with it?
Questions adults in my life seemed not to be able to answer.
Huge multi-use project
After years of indecision about what to do with it, and yet more years of development, the Battersea Power Station finally opened in October as London’s latest mega-shopping centre and living complex – my childhood self would be justifiably relieved.
It has had millions of pounds of investment, not just in refurbishment of the station itself, but also in the surrounding area and the new tube stop. Battersea Power Station’s reopening is the talk of the town. Yet, by calling it a shopping centre, I’m probably conjuring up an image of a classic mall, gleaming white, with tiers of shops looking over a central space lit by an expansive skylight.
Somewhat utopic, shopping centres are structures that pay homage to the gods of capitalism and material wealth. Shop upon shop where one can spend both hours and money in the hope of getting that perfect something.
And yet, I think Battersea Power Station is a little different.
The power station itself is comprised of three connected turbine halls with different stores sat along the edges and shopfronts looking down into the main caverns. So far so classic shopping mall. But what I liked about the station was that the designers have left original features of the station itself. You don’t feel entirely like you’re having that usual brain-numbing shopping experience – it’s more edgy; it almost feels like you’re doing something enriching. Perhaps that was their intention.
The large feature steel beams have been repainted a dark grey, the original brick walls remain exposed and large sections of old machinery now stand as feature pieces.
It seems that the new developers did not want the space to forget its roots. I’d recommend a visit to the art deco bar in the old control room. Have a Negroni surrounded by large control panels abuzz with pink neon light – you could describe it as 20s-industrial chic.
But not only has the old power station itself had a makeover, so has the surrounding area – and quite rightly. Another question I had growing up, especially after I found out that flats were going to be built nearby, was who would want to live there? The area had seemed closed off from the rest of London because of the terrible transport links, perhaps serving as a microcosm, or macrocosm, for the stagnant station itself.
Historically it was an industrial heartland, contributing heavily to the smoginess of the local area. Even after its official closure in 1983, there were only limited signs of regeneration – hence the excitement of it’s recent unveiling. The investors have also invested in the new Battersea Power Station tube stop, creating an ease of access for Battersea dwellers and the rest of London.
They have refurbished the surrounding area into a place. Flats designed by Frank Gehry rise up next to the station, a striking contradiction with the power station, but one that works. The Gehry flats are a standout design – bold to match the boldness of the power station – but are not subservient, they stand on their own merit.
Prices start from 585,000 pounds for a Koa studio flat adjacent to the power station – the ultimate sine qua non and a perfect example of gentrification, but perhaps in this case a little more positive.
Wander around the site and you see a manicured green space in between the riverbank and the station itself, as well as elegant paving and walkthrough channels enlivened by perfectly placed planting. Even the design of the children’s playground makes me a little jealous.
So the future of Battersea Power Station looks bright.
The area has been rejuvenated, residents have riverside views and are a short walk away from the pleasures of nearby Battersea Park and access into central London is now easy via the tube and Chelsea bridge.
For visitors, look ahead for the ice skating rink currently under construction. Have a winter day out skating by the river and against the backdrop of the looming station. Also, pay a visit to the new stores while they’re still new, my foray into Zara was actually pleasurable. I had mentally prepared myself for its usual chaos and long queues, but upon entering I exclaimed, in my usual sophistication, that it was bouji. It is idyllic, spacious, gleaming, angular.
The designer-brand experience meets the high street.
Perhaps that’s the Power station summed up.
Amelia Anderson is London born and raised and has never stopped exploring the city. Having moved to Oxford for her bachelor’s degree in History of Art, she has now moved back to study Gender Studies at University College London.