What’s going on with Battersea Power Station?

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After a big spike in reporters’ attention following Apple’s decision to move its headquarters into the grade 2 star listed art deco Building, Battersea Power Station has gone quieter in mainstream media over the last months. This doesn’t mean that nothing has changed and Spectacle has been following the latest initiatives of Battersea Power Station Development Company around the beloved building designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. Unfortunately much of the news is not reassuring.

Bad news or good news? Bad and good, as usual, are mixed up in the opacity of corporate communication, where everything can be spun according to the most convenient narrative. In fact, the general public is probably aware that the biggest and richest company in the world, Apple, have expressed their intention to move into the refurbished power plant. Apple has been welcomed almost unanimously in mainstream media (among others:  BBC, The Guardian, Evening Standard) as good news. Meanwhile only Spectacle’s blog reported that the East Wall has been completely demolished in order to make windows and give light to Apple’s offices.

Battersea Power Station - three of the four chimneys have been rebuilt

Battersea Power Station – three of the four chimneys have been rebuilt. (Spectacle, 10/03/17)

This major loss, unreported in the mainstream media, follows a curious ’destroy-to-preserve’  strategy repeatedly applied to portions of the Battersea Power Station. Even though best practice in heritage interventions recommends to keep existing structures, the iconic chimneys have gone and been replaced with replicas. In our opinion this is the most evident distortion produced by developer-led preservation, as shown in our film Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon.

The demolitions (east wall and chimneys) have been approved by all regulatory agencies (Historic England – former English Heritage – and Wandsworth Council) and justified with the greater good of bringing the Battersea Power Station back to life. But what good has the 9 billion development – one of the biggest in Europe –  delivered so far? The works to rebuild the chimneys have proceeded and, at the moment, three newly built chimneys stick out the spoiled art deco power station. Hopefully Londoners will be able to once again admire the four chimneys back on the Battersea skyline, even though they are fakes. Better than nothing? Maybe. 

PUBLIC NOT PUBLIC

Battersea Power Station Development Company, through it’s Chief Executive Rob Tincknell, have recently announced the opening of a riverside walk in the development area:  “We are delighted that we are able to open new public spaces for London and are starting to bring the power station and its surrounds back into London life” (Reported on the Evening Standard). Despite the enthusiasm in the wording, the ‘public space’ Rob Tincknell is talking about is a private walk squeezed between the river and Phase 1 of the development. This promenade is going to be integrated into the wider riverside walk that will be opened in front of the Power Station. Like the rest of the development, this space is private and merely open to public, which is quite different from being ‘public space’.

BPS_Collage_Riverside

The recently open riverside promenade (Spectacle, 04/03/2015)

While filming the new Riverside promenade, our naive crew, believing in the “public space” hype outlined by the developers, acted as if it was a real public area. Unfortunately we have been brought back to reality when the local security reminded us that the landlord decided that smoking was not allowed on the site. Thanks to this sensible management, our health has been preserved. Nevertheless it seems unlikely that a privately policed space will guarantee free enjoyment of the river. If they were to outlaw picnics (maybe to help food shops in the development) or a protest, there would be little room for complaint: that’s what you get when you privatise public spaces.

The Guardian in the past has warned about the effects already produced by this public/private mix on the shores of the River Thames, that became a “bafflingly complex labyrinth of private obstructions and municipal confusion – and a struggle over land rights that could have serious consequences for common access to the river”. Not a great prelude to what developers offer as a unique experience.

PLANNING NOT PLANNING 

The pretentious 230 pages long ‘manifesto’ on Place Making put forward by the Battersea Power Station Development Company gives paramount importance to mixed use and mixed tenancy. Despite the commitment to deliver housing (and some affordable housing) to London’s population, the Malaysian consortium that leads the development has changed its mind, switching from luxury flats to offices.

THE_PLACEBOOK

Cover page of Battersea Power Station Development Company book on ‘place making’ (2014)

Battersea Power Station Development Company have put forward an application for a change of use for Phase 3 of the project. Developers are seeking to turn two buildings, by starchitects Frank Gehry and Norman Foster, – whose flats have already been displayed for sale – from residential to office use. The Financial Times, reported the proposed change is due to a drastic drop in the prime housing market price, whereas demand for office space seems to be holding a higher value. Rob Tincknell in the Financial Times had to justify the plan: “The great thing about a long-term scheme like this is we can adjust with the markets. If there’s no residential market and a very strong office market then we will build offices”.

The same Tincknell that now praises flexibility, in the past gave an interview to Peter Watts, for his book “Up in Smoke” about the history of Battersea Power Station, making clear how Battersea Power Station Development Company came up with their surefire recipe to make Battersea the perfect place: “57% residential. Of the remaining 43% that’s about 3.4m sq ft, 1.2m retail and restaurants, 1.7m sq ft of offices and the balance in hotels, leisure and community space.” We wonder what happened to the pseudo-scientific plan for mixing uses and people in the “new place”, allegedly the result of a long consultation with local people. Maybe it wasn’t that important, since Tincknell tells the Financial Times now that “I could easily see us adding another million square feet (of office space)” and taking out a hotel and lots of residential from the scheme.

Battersea Power Station Community Group, virtually the only critical voice in the neighbourhood whose opinion has never been taken into account by the developers, have stood against the proposed plan: “The Gehry and Foster blocks should become social, affordable and mid-priced housing. There could be some office space at the lower levels. But with a housing crisis in London of unprecedented severity, these buildings should not be given over to offices in their entirety”.

Keep following our blog for updates and other contradictions produced by the big bang development of Battersea Power Station

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Cosa succede alla Battersea Power Station?

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Dopo la decisione di Apple di trasferire il suo quartier generale all’interno della Battersea Power Station, abbiamo assistito ad un picco di attenzione mediatica nei confronti dell’edificio art deco, gemma del patrimonio architettonico nazionale. Negli ultimi mesi, al contrario, le vicende che riguardano Battersea Power Station sembrano scomparse dai media mainstream. Ciò non significa che nulla sia successo e Spectacle ha continuato a monitorare le iniziative della Battersea Power Station Development Company – società che gestisce il progetto di rigenerazione – attorno alla monumentale centrale elettrica progettata da Giles Gilbert Scott e tanto amato da Londinesi e non. Sfortunatamente molte delle novità non sono confortanti.

Cattive notizie o buone notizie? Come sempre buono e cattivo sono mescolati nel linguaggio commerciale e ogni fatto è filtrato ad arte in base alle convenienze. Per esempio il grande pubblico certamente è stato messo al corrente del fatto che la più grande e ricca azienda al mondo, Apple, ha manifestato l’intenzione di trasferire i suoi uffici all’interno della centrale elettrica al termine dei lavori di ristrutturazione. Apple è stata salutata positivamente, come abbiamo segnalato, praticamente da tutti i mass media (tra gli altri segnaliamo BBC, The Guardian, Evening Standard). Nel frattempo solamente il nostro blog ha dato notizia della demolizione totale dalla parete est della centrale, rimossa per far posto a finestre e dare così luce ai nuovi uffici della Apple.

Battersea Power Station - three of the four chimneys have been rebuilt

Battersea Power Station – tre delle quattro ciminiere sono state ricostruite (Spectacle, 10/03/17)

Questa triste perdita, andata sotto completo silenzio in tutti gli altri media, è in linea con la curiosa strategia conservativa ‘distruggi per preservare’ ripetutamente applicata a porzioni della Battersea Power Station. Nonostante le migliori pratiche conservative del patrimonio storico architettonico prevedano il mantenimento della maggior parte dei manufatti esistenti, nel caso di Battersea si è deciso di procedere alla demolizione delle ciminiere e alla ricostruzione di repliche. Secondo noi questo è uno degli esempi più evidenti delle storture prodotte dall’intervento di interessi finanziari nel campo della conservazione, come abbiamo cercato di mostrare nel nostro film Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon

Le demolizioni (ciminiere e parete est) sono state approvate da tutte le agenzie di controllo (in primis Historic England e il Municipio di Wandsworth) e giustificate in nome del bene ultimo rappresentato dal riportare in vita la Battersea Power Station. Ma quale bene è stato prodotto finora dal megaprogetto di rigenerazione, valutato in 9 miliardi di sterline e tra i più grandi in Europa? I lavori per la ricostruzione delle ciminiere sono andati avanti e, al momento, tre ciminiere nuove di zecca spiccano sulle rovine della centrale elettrica. Se tutto va bene, presto i londinesi saranno di nuovo in grado di ammirare tutte e quattro le ciminiere nello skyline di Battersea. Peccato siano false. Meglio di niente? Forse…

Pubblico non Pubblico

La Battersea Power Station Development Company, attraverso il suo amministratore delegato Rob Tincknell, ha recentemente annunciato l’apertura di una passeggiata lungo il Tamigi: “Siamo lieti di poter aprire nuovi spazi pubblici per Londra e di poter condurre la Power Station e i suoi dintorni di nuovo al centro della vita londinese” (dall’Evening Standard). Nonostante l’entusiasmo dell’annuncio, lo ‘spazio pubblico’ cui si riferisce Rob Tincknell è nient’altro che una breve passaggio pedonale privato, schiacciato tra il fiume e la cosiddetta Fase 1 del progetto. La passeggiata sarà integrata al più ampio lungofiume che sarà aperto al pubblico di fronte alla Power Station. Come il resto dell’area, anche questo spazio è tecnicamente privato e solo aperto al pubblico, cosa ben diversa dall’essere uno ‘spazio pubblico’ tout court.

BPS_Collage_Riverside

Mentre eravamo intenti a fare delle riprese sulla nuova passeggiata, i membri della crew di Spectacle, ingenui, sono caduti nel tranello retorico dello ‘spazio pubblico’ pubblicizzato dai costruttori e si sono comportati come se davvero lo fosse. Sfortunatamente siamo stati ricondotti alla realtà da un membro del servizio di sicurezza venuto a ricordarci che il padrone di casa aveva deciso che non era permesso fumare in tutta l’area. Grazie al giudizioso gestore, la nostra salute è stata salvaguardata. Ci sembra però improbabile che uno spazio sottoposto a controllo privato possa garantire un libero godimento del lungofiume. Se i proprietari decidessero di bandire i picnic (magari per dare una mano i loro ristoratori) o manifestazioni di protesta, non ci sarebbe molto di cui lamentarsi: questo è ciò che accade quando si privatizzano spazi pubblici.

The Guardian in passato ha lanciato un allarme sugli effetti già prodotti dalla sovrapposizione di pubblico e privato lungo le sponde del Tamigi, diventato, secondo la loro indagine un “labirinto incomprensibilmente complesso di ostacoli privati e confusione tra municipi – nonché un campo di battaglia sui diritti di transito che potrebbe avere serie ripercussioni sull’accesso pubblico al fiume”. Non un grande preludio verso quella che i costruttori offrono come un’esperienza unica.

Planning non Planning

Le pretenziose 230 pagine del ‘manifesto’ su Place Making prodotte dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company riserva un ruolo fondamentale alla diversità di usi e di inquilini. Nonostante l’impegno a costruire case (alcune delle quali a prezzo calmierato) per la popolazione londinese, i proprietari hanno cambiato idea, passando da appartamenti di lusso a uffici.

THE_PLACEBOOK

La Battersea Power Station Development Company ha presentato istanza per un cambio d’uso della cosiddetta Fase 3 del progetto. I costruttori hanno intenzione di trasformare due edifici, progettati dalle star dell’architettura contemporanea Frank Gehry and Norman Foster – i cui appartamenti sono talaltro già in vendita – da uso residenziale a uffici. Il Financial Times nel darne notizia, presenta come causa di tale cambio il drastico crollo dei prezzi degli immobili di lusso, mentre la domanda di spazi per uffici si manterrebbe alta così come il loro valore. Rob Tincknell ha così giustificato la mossa al Financial Times: “L’aspetto positivo dei progetti a lungo termine è che possono adattarsi al mercato. Se non c’è mercato per immobili residenziali e un mercato molto florido per gli uffici, allora costruiamo uffici”.

Lo stesso Tincknell – che adesso esalta la flessibilità – in passato ha rilasciato un’intervista a Peter Watts, autore di ‘Up in Smoke’, testo sulla storia di Battersea Power Station, sottolineando come la propria azienda avesse prodotto una ricetta infallibile per rendere Battersea un luogo perfetto: “57% residenziale. Del restante 43%, che corrisponde a circa 315.000 mq, 110.000 mq in negozi e ristoranti, 158.000 mq in uffici e il resto con un buon bilanciamento di hotel, tempo libero e spazi per la comunità”. Ci domandiamo che cosa è successo a questo piano pseudoscientifico per mescolare usi e gente, secondo gli autori risultato di lunghe consultazioni con gli abitanti dell’area. Forse non era così importante dato che oggi Tincknel può riferire al Financial Times: “è facile immaginare di aggiungere 93.000 mq (di uffici)” e cancellare dal progetto un hotel e un bel po’ di appartamenti.

Il Battersea Power Station Community Group, praticamente l’ultima voce critica rimasta a mettere in discussione il progetto e le cui opinioni non sono mai state prese in considerazione dalla proprietà nel corso delle consultazioni, si sono scagliati contro la proposta: “Gli edifici di Gehry e Foster dovrebbero diventare case a uso sociale, con prezzi calmierati. Potrebbero esserci uffici ai piani bassi. Mentre assistiamo alla crisi abitativa più grave che sia mai stata vissuta a Londra, non si può dare via questi edifici nella loro interezza ad uso uffici”.

Continuate a seguirci per aggiornamenti e nuove contraddizioni generate dalla megarigenerazione di Battersea Power Station.

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Battersea Power Station – The untold story of the East Wall.

According to news emanating from the developers of Battersea Power Station via the Evening Standard– Apple (the suits not the manufacturing) plan to occupy almost half of the beloved art deco building (500,000 square feet) in 2021, relocating 1,400 of its employees from Oxford Circus to Giles Gilbert Scott’s masterpiece.

Despite the expectation of a bright future, the shine has come off the PR coup as the building Apple is moving into, won’t be the Battersea Power Station, but rather a new built Battersea Fake Station. After decades of demolition by stealth, in order to provide daylight to the new office spaces, the East Wall has been demolished. The celebrated expanses of patterned brickwork will be replaced with new Art Deco-Style windows.

The historic brick work East Wall came down just a few weeks ago. It was only after the white plastic scaffold covering was removed that activists and residents realised that the East wall had gone.

East side of the Battersea Power Station without the wall - Work in Progress...

What’s left of the Battersea Power Station – The unexpected demolition of the East Wall.

Battersea Power Station and the unexpected demolition of the East wall.

View from the East side of the Power Station without the wall – Demolition in progress … (?!)

Silence in the news left everyone unaware of this latest act of heritage vandalism. Why this lack of information? And what’s the reason behind this decision to demolish? Conservation or profit?

In our film ‘Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon’, Nigel Barker, Planning and Conservation Director for London at Historic England (formerly English Heritage), described the principle of putting glazing into the East Wall as “quite challenging”.

He added: “One of the key characteristics of the power station was large blank areas of patterned brickwork.”… “If you are going to use that building, if it is going to have a new future then you are going to have to get new light in there.”…”So the decision was taken. Providing (that) the glazing is done in a way that respects and responds to the original design, then we can see it happening.”

Battersea Power Station Development Company got planning permission to put windows in the wall. But what Spectacle and the residents did not know is that they had to knock down the whole wall to realise this plan. Did Historic England know? If so, how does it fit in with their principles of conservation?

Plastic model of the Power Station redevelopment plan.

Plastic model of the Power Station redevelopment plan.

Brian Barnes, founding member of the Battersea Power Station Community Group that has fought for the protection of the site since the 1980s, said that everything has been done “behind closed doors” without any consultation. He reminds us that behind the development planning application there are over 600 documents and many subsequent “variations” which makes it hard to grasp what exactly is going on.

The lack of clarity and the broken promises leave residents and fans of the Art Deco masterpiece with many unanswered questions about the future of Battersea Power Station-  the biggest brick building in Europe.

Rob Tincknell, CEO of the Battersea Power Station Development Company, told The Guardian: “to fill the power station with shops, offices, luxury apartments and £30m-plus penthouses, and surround it with yet more apartment blocks [… is] paying for this [restoration]. You don’t just regenerate this out of thin air.” But this is not restoration: it is desecration.

It started with John Broome in the 1980s who demolished the West Wall and took off the roof. This three decades long process of demolition by stealth of the heritage site has been allowed by Wandsworth Council.

As we can see, the West Wall has never been rebuilt.  Apparently the plan is to create a glass wall so that the luxury ‘ghost’ flats can have the daylight coming through. But the questions are – Who is going to profit and at what cost to us all and to the future generations? Why have the agencies responsible for the protection of our heritage connived in this greedy exploitation of our cultural assets?

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Battersea Power Station: A Mighty Fall

Jeff Nevil has produced this insightful presentation, exploring and discussing the history and potential future of the iconic, Battersea Power Station.

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Battersea Power Station history from the 30s to 1983

The Vauxhall Society reprints an extract from  ‘Battersea Power Station – 50 Years of Service – A Short History’ first published by CEGB Public Relations Branch in 1983.

The Vauxhall Society is the civic consultative group covering the London parliamentary constituency of Vauxhall, which extends from north of Waterloo to Brixton, Clapham, and Stockwell and Vauxhall, as well as the neighbouring districts of Southwark and Wandsworth.

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Battersea Power Station- a tragi-comedy of errors

here today...

Battersea Power Station- a tragi-comedy of errors.

by our theatre critic BabyLonDon

Last night’s Wandsworth Borough Council Planning Committee meeting to approve the demolition of the Victorian Battersea Pumping Station and the demolition (and supposed replacement) of the iconic power station chimneys was the best show in town- Dickens in modern dress that occasionally lapsed into panto. The farce played to a packed house – with the corridors full of (vested?) interested parties straining to hear the proceedings over the PA.

The rather predictable plot- a variation on the turkeys voting for Christmas story -had a committee clearly determined to vote in favour spending three hours going through the massive planning application with just one dissenting voice of reason, played by a rather hammy councillor Tony Belton, pointing out the blindingly obvious flaws and unfeasibility of the scheme.

The real drama and humour lay in the fact that the committee seemed oblivious to the subplot- that the developers, REO (Treasury Holdings UK), are massively in “toxic” debt and in effect owned by the Irish tax payers via  NAMA and will do nothing but continue to demolish what little is left on the site and then “flip it”- selling it on as an empty brown field site for river front luxury development.

REO were unlucky that when the music of the property boom stopped they were left without a chair, but lucky enough to have their biggest non-Irish asset located in Wandsworth, infamous for having allowed the power station to fall into its current state of near dilapidation and for waving through truly hideous and desolate riverside developments.

There was something distasteful in the pathos of the affable officer’s naive presentation of the nonsensical scheme as from the public gallery hard nosed and cash hungry developers salivated at the easy meal they were shortly to enjoy.

There were comic moments as the “power dressed” committee members seemed to be made up of people who were in thrall to the promised dream of capitalism but had no clue about business. They dismissed the very real credibility gaps in the developers “vision”, enthusiastically hanging the whole wobbly edifice on the “promise” that these mega debtors (or at least Irish toxic debt vehicle NAMA) would stump up over 200 million pounds for the Northern Line Extension, or as it is known locally the “Ghost train to nowhere”. Even if this phantom train ride were real it would not happen for years even if it all went to plan… it was an evening of “even ifs”.

One comedic highlight was the officer’s report on the stringent “conditions” the council had negotiated with the Developers.

REO could take down the chimneys but must replace within 7 years.

REO could remove the embarrassing sight of the wharf cranes they are letting rot and could “restore” them inside the hulk of the rotting power station.

REO could first develop a slither of land on the north west river front. Happily the piece of land with most instant resale value, being the furthest from the smelly and polluting waste transfer facility on the north east water edge of the site and the cluster of huge gas holders on the south west edge, deemed by the HSE to be enough of a potential danger to society they recommended the scheme was rejected. This danger of an inferno seemed not to trouble the committee who dismissed the HSE’s concerns. One councillor mocked it as health and safety gone mad as residents of the later phases of the development nearer the potential blast would have chosen to buy their luxury flats aware of the risk.

They also swallowed, uncritically, the completely spurious argument for knocking down the grade II listed Victorian pumping station on the grounds it was a “community benefit” in order to “save” the power station apparently achieved by destroying its architectural value by knocking windows all along its sides and turning it into a shopping mall with luxury flats.

All of the responsibilities and commitments of REO were locked into phases of the development projected way into the future. As REO have no real intention, or means, to “deliver” these planning pipe dreams they were in effect getting off Scot free. The only thing the planning committee’s decisions would guarantee were the demolitions.

The press has been full of the glossy artists impressions of this bright new future but actually it is a dark day for most Battersea residents as this scheme will deliver nothing but another decade of planning blight. A bleak future without two of the regions most precious and best loved buildings.

The optimists had to accept that even if the Power Station were to survive this scheme it could not actually be seen from anywhere in the borough once surrounded by the 15+ storey buildings REO planned.

Given the power station is Wandsworth Borough council’s logo it was indeed a turkey landslide vote for every day being christmas.

BabyLonDon’s Final Verdict: Funny but sad. Not an “An absolute triumph”

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Battersea Power Station demolition by stealth gets council go ahead

Tonight, with only one vote against, the London Borough of Wandsworth’s Planning Committee gave the green light for the demolition by stealth of Battersea Power Station by approving the chimneys are removed and (maybe?) replaced and the total destruction of the Victorian Pumping Station as predicted. Condemning north Battersea to another 15 years of urban blight.  But take heart there are still many rivers to cross (for the developers) and many opportunities along the way for us to propose more imaginative uses and to prove that urban planning by speculation is not viable or in the public interest.

For a full report read the review by Spectacle’s theatre critic BabyLonDon

“An absolute triumph”

Coming soon… details of our photographic competition: Soon to be Lost Views of Battersea Power Station

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Battersea Power Station chimney and Pump Station demolition meeting

Wandsworth Council’s Planning Applications Committee will (almost certainly) decide to give the go-ahead for the demolition of the chimneys at Battersea Power Station and the listed  grade II Victorian Water Pumping Station despite widespread and expert objection. The meeting is at the

Wandsworth Town Hall Thursday 11th November 7pm

(Please note the earlier than usual start time)

The Town Hall
Wandsworth High Street
London
SW18 2PU

Go to Details and reports for more info and to download the reports online the application number 1 is 2009/3575, No 4, 2009/3676 demolition of chimneys etc, no 3, 2009/3577, no 4, 2009/3578 Demolition of Water Pumping station.

Brian Barnes MBE, Chair of Battersea Power Station Community Group,  has issued a press release on behalf of the BPSCG:

If it were ever built, the Power station would be obscured by massive blocks of luxury flats and hotels. The Power Station will be altered with changes that will spoil the Grade 2* listed building with windows in the side walls, 1950s control room dismantled, new false ceilings in the main turbine hall, pods for penthouses covering the roofs and chimneys demolished and replaced by replicas (as if). Out of 3700 flats, only about 500 to be part buy/part let (so called “affordable”). The Grade 2 listed Battersea Water Pumping Station will be destroyed completely “in the public’s interest”. Any gain of public open space is unusable as it will be lakes and moats to reflect views of Power Station, as if there isn’t enough water with the Thames flowing past…

You can read the full press release here www.batterseapowerstation.org.uk

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See more of Spectacle’s Photos of Battersea Power Station

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Battersea Forum Q&A Available to Watch

On Wednesday 31s March the DRCA Community Centre hosted the presentation of REO / Treasury Holdings‘ planning application for Battersea Power Station.

As part of our ongoing Battersea Power Station project, we have edited together the charged question and answer session between the planning director, Jeremy Castle, and members of the local community which you can watch on our Battersea Power Station archive. Topics raised included affordable housing, schools, parking, fencing and the iconic chimneys.

The current plan, which you can read more about at our Battersea Power Station blog, includes the construction of 3,700 luxury flats, a riverside park, a hotel, and a new tube station surrounding the Grade II* listed Power Station which could itself become a retail centre. Wandsworth Council are set to make a decision in July.

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Battersea Power Station Original Plans

Courtesy of Brian Barnes of the Battersea Power Station Community Group, what we have beneath are some of the original plans for the station, fuelling the debate on what the site should now be used for.

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Visit Spectacle’s on-going Battersea Power Station Project

Watch a video trailer here: Battersea Power Station – The Story So Far

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If you live in the neighbourhood and would like to get involved, contact us here putting Battersea Power Station in your message.

Click here for more Battersea Power Station links

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