Today’s exciting news is that Battersea Power Station looks like it is, at long last, going to get the redevelopment that it has long been promised.
I love Battersea Power Station. It is a London totem, a lodestone for my internal compass of the city, and I’m delighted to see it properly preserved as part of the redevelopment.
I grew up in suburban South London, where they do not have the tube. Our quickest route up to London was by overground train in to Victoria, which meant passing Giles Gilbert Scott’s magnificent brick cathedral on the South Bank of the Thames. We weren’t in London until we’d gone past it, and my face was always there, pressed up against the glass of the train window to watch it slip by. If I dredge my memory, I think I can just about recall passing it where there was still smoke coming out of the stacks, as a very young child on what must have been one of my first trips up to London.
Even as a teenager, heading up to London with my friends on a Saturday afternoon, our route took us into Victoria, and while I was far too busy clowning around with my friends (and doubtless annoying everyone else on the train), and far too cool to press my face up against the glass, still, the fleeting glimpse of it was my marker that we were nearly there, that we were in the city proper, as opposed the shitty suburbs.
And as an adult, when I first joined the company I currently work for, one of the big selling points for me was that the office was just next door to the power station. I could, and often did, walk up there on my lunch break, to eat a sandwich while staring at the building – I couldn’t approach very close, but I could see it, nonetheless, and in some way, it made me feel like I was a proper grown up now – that I was sufficiently autonomous to be able to go and see this magical structure whenever I wished.
A couple of years back, I was absolutely delighted to get to look around the power station on an open day, and was amply repaid for doing so. Even in decay, it’s still a marvellous structure, and remains a fantastic feat of engineering and architecture.
There is a little bit of me, if I’m honest, that would sort of prefer that it wasn’t redeveloped. Part of the magic of it was that it was so recognisable, so much a part of my internal landscape of London, and yet so remote – not somewhere I could generally get to. If it becomes a building in whose shadow I can easily stroll around, then I worry that familiarity will breed contempt. Or I worry that the new development will block sight-lines, or re-contextualise that building in a manner that makes it less special. But if the alternative is that the building fall irreparably to ruin, then I’ll take whatever will keep it going.
I am just a little sad, though, that the transport option that’s gone along with these plans is a couple more tube stops. I mean, don’t get me wrong, more tube stops is good news, but I know that one of the transport options that got shot down in an earlier redevelopment plan that didn’t get approval was that Victoria station would be altered a bit to include a cable-car connection across the river to the power station. Tell me that wouldn’t have been magnificence itself.
But this one includes something that other didn’t, which makes me even happier, is that (part of) the power station will be used to generate power again – green power from biomass and waste this time. And while it’ll be steam, not smoke in the future, still, those massive stacks will breathe again.