Battersea Power Station – from no mans land to architectural extravaganza

 

bps small web

The iconic Battersea Power Station is at the heart of Rafael Vinoly’s master plan – a massive “regeneration” scheme for Battersea.

The riverfront district of Southwest London around the Battersea Power Station will soon be unrecognizable due to a huge “regeneration” scheme. The Battersea Power Station which has remained largely unused since its closure in 1983 is at the heart of this luxury housing development financed by a Malaysian real estate investment group Eco World.

This regeneration scheme has recently hit the headlines with its culmination London’s first ‘sky pool’, a swimming pool which has been planned to bridge two 10-storey buildings in Embassy Garden’s as a part of the Battersea “redevelopment” plan.

However Nine Elms ‘sky pool’ has not been acclaimed by everyone. A private swimming pool sky bridge in the middle of London’s affordable housing crises has stormed critique as a symbol of rising inequality. The recent newspaper headlines show the other side of the story of the highest residential swimming pool in London:

The Independent wrote: “Nine Elms ‘sky pool’: luxury London flat owners  will be able to swim while literally looking down on everyone else”.

In addition, The Guardian stated: “The ‘sky pool’ is just the start: London prepares for a flood of bathing oligarchs”.

The planned luxury flats are being criticized for being aimed at wealthy foreign buyers taking advantage of the rising value of property in London. In January 2013 the first residential apartments went on sale and now all of the Thames-facing apartments have already been sold, way before the project was even launched.

Last year the reselling cycle made possible that the flats with starting prices from £1 million were on sale later on the year for £1.5 million. However the rapidly increasing prices are only a one side of the issue. The fundamental conflict lies on the fact that only 16 % of the planned new homes (560 of the total of 3,444) will be affordable housing.

pbs model

The “redevelopment” of Battersea would change the Landscape of London – the iconic Power Station would be surrounded by huge building blocks.

Since the power station ceased generating electricity in the 80s, it has become one of the best known landmarks in London. As the largest brick building in Europe, the iconic power station was listed on the World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund in 2004.

During the past 50 years, numerous redevelopment plans for the Battersea Power Station have been introduced. However these projects have usually failed due to a lack of funding. In 2010 Real Estate Opportunities were granted permission to redevelop the power station. This resulted in the creation of the current master plan for Battersea, an architect Rafael Vinoly’s design which gained planning consent from Wandsworth Council in 2011.

However, Vinoly does not have exactly a clean architectural record. According to the BBC the ‘Walkie Talkie’ skyscraper on Fenchurch Street in London had been blamed for reflecting light and causing a ‘death ray’ with a high temperature. The 37-storey tower designed by Rafael Vinoly was claimed to damage vehicles by melting parts of them and even causing fires.

Last week Building Design magazine announced that Walkie Talkie, nicknamed because of its bulbous, curving shape was voted for the worst building in London. Building Design’s annual Carbuncle Cup sparked an online debate including not so flattering comments about the building such as one reader commenting: “I now have a new personal goal: to live long enough to see this building demolished”.

Now the planned Phase 3 with proposals for the future of Battersea and the power station has been revealed by the Battersea Power Station Development Company, a Malaysian consortium in charge of the project. The Phase 3 of the project will provide 1,310 residential homes with only 103 of them being affordable which is less than 8 % of the houses that are planned to be build.

Will this solve the growing divide in the London housing market? Very unlikely. So far it seems that the beneficiaries are the wealthy few who the housing crisis doesn’t hit with its sky-high prices.

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Battersea Power Station Pop-Up Park ‘pops off’

IMG_9991

Last May, the Battersea Power Station developers opened what they announced as a Pop-Up Park, that would receive visitors from all over the world every weekend and host several events. The so called public park, that was even added to Google Maps, ( how did that happen?) soon ‘popped off’ and in late September closed its doors.

The Power Station is one of the few obstacles preventing walkers from strolling along the south side of the Thames Path. For years this path has been blocked– a fading sign claimed it was a “construction site” even though really it was a very agreeable and exclusive river front office for construction company Berkeley Homes. The Berkeley Group (Berkeley, St James, St George, St Edward ) are responsible for ”delivering” many of the ugly and soulless developments despoiling the south bank.

IMG_9990In a new sign hanging on the now closed door, the developers claim the reason why they are shutting access to the park is related to the beginning of restoration works of the Power Station. In fact phase 1, which has barely started, is the building of monstrous flats in the slither of land along the rail track, forever obscuring the wonderful views from the west. “Restoration” (or desecration depending on your view of art deco architecture) of the power station is phase 2.

The sign also states that they have had “a great time hosting over 55,000 guests” in the pop up park. Are they are including in that number the more than 30,000 people that visited the building during the London Open House weekend? If so the pop up park was already closed then. Or do they count those attending the numerous events they have hosted, regardless of the alleged danger of the chimneys falling, on the south side of the site?

Finally it suggests you write to zkelly@bpsdc.co.uk if you would like to discuss putting on an event- It would seem danger from the chimneys only affects the non-paying public but not private, paying guests.

Perhaps “PR Park” would be a more appropriate name than “pop-up Park”.

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Letter to English Heritage from Battersea Power Station Community Group on future plans

 

Keith Garner has written the letter below on behalf of the Battersea Power Station Community Group (BPSCG) to English Heritage. It outlines their proposal to purchase the monumental building for £1 and then their community driven plans for the future of the station.

 

12th June 2012
Dr Edward Impey
English Heritage
1 Waterhouse Square
138 – 142 Holborn
London EC1N 2ST

Dear Edward,

BATTERSEA POWER STATION

Thank you for calling me last week to discuss Battersea Power Station following our recent letter to Kay Andrews asking her for a meeting. It was good to hear from you again of course, but I was disappointed to hear that Kay Andrews is not able to see us, and that English Heritage does not think it has a role to play in resolving this long-standing issue at this time.

As has been EH’s policy in recent times, you are leaving it to others to come up with solutions. Our most recent initiative – one of many over the last 29 years – was to propose to the administrators to divide Battersea Power Station itself from the South Lambeth Goods Yard site (acquired by John Broome), placing the former in a trust with an endowment, and selling the latter to pay the creditors. The Battersea Power Station Company – a charitable trust we set up in 2002 – offered £1 to take over the building and to open it to the public in the short term. We discussed this last week when you agreed that this sounded like a plausible approach.

Other organisations have also been active in bringing forward initiatives. In April, the Twentieth Century Society organised a symposium to discuss the future of the building. One of the key points of consensus to emerge was desirably of some form of trust ownership, which prompted us to make our bid. Other than the Survey of London personnel, I don’t think English Heritage was represented at the symposium. This was unfortunate, as you would also have seen a very interesting scheme for the building and surrounding area put forward by Marcus Binney of SAVE and Graham Morrison of Allies & Morrison.

The scheme develops ideas in SAVE’s 1981 report (which Graham Morrison also worked on) proposing an amphitheatre in the central boiler house space. This would be unroofed initially using temporary seating similar to that proposed for Olympic events, e.g. A&M’s scheme for Greenwich Park. Longer term, the intention would be to roof the space (an unroofed space would not be a good neighbour in the longer term) and to re-inhabit other parts of the building. Meanwhile the development of the surrounding site would commence.

The scheme would achieve many of the things Battersea Power Station Community Group has advocated over the years. It allows public access to Battersea Power Station. It proposes a sensible phased refurbishment of the building itself and the site around, taking a much longer view than other schemes we have seen. New buildings respect the scale of the Power Station and allow it to continue to exist as an urban monument. The listed Victorian pumping station is also retained. (We would hope of course to see social housing of various kinds as well.)

We also feel that the SAVE/Allies & Morrison scheme is consistent with our proposal to divide the two sites, with the Power Station put into a trust. Indeed, the SAVE/Allies & Morrison scheme might be facilitated if this was done. There is a strong commercial case for SP Setia to put the Power Station into a trust. As a predominantly public building it becomes a “draw” raising the profile of the adjacent commercial site. But at the same time, SP Setia would not be responsible for looking after the building or making it work commercially.

Much of the inflated price of £400m is predicated on having to pay for the “restoration” of the building. This in turn will lead to the over-development of the surrounding site; as we have already seen with the widely condemned Vinoly outline permission. If the obligation to look after the listed building is taken away from SP Setia, then perhaps some height reductions can be negotiated, to the scale A&M propose? Some funding could plausibly come from the HLF instead, the popular Battersea Power Station being a worthy recipient of public money.

There is a further question you should take up with central government, namely the financing of the Northern Line extension. Battersea Power Station Community Group is sceptical as to the necessity of this line, given the two overground stations, plentiful buses etc. But if it is to happen the new owners should not be expected to make a £200m contribution toward the cost of it. The public good here is the preservation of and public access to Battersea Power Station. The new owners should not be encumbered with the additional cost of funding a tube contribution as well.

Surely then, this is an opportunity for English Heritage to influence the future of Battersea Power Station. But there is little time as only 28 days – the ‘due diligence’ period – has been allowed for negotiations. The building is still standing, another over-development has collapsed – as predicted – and the threat to demolish the chimneys is no longer imminent. And there are very positive and possible ideas to save Battersea Power Station as outlined above. With all these factors before us, now would seem to be a good time to meet.

Yours sincerely,
Keith Garner
for Battersea Power Station Community Group
E-mail: keithwgarner@btinternet.com

cc Mr Paul Appleton Allies & Morrison
Brian Barnes MBE BPSCG
Mr Marcus Binney SAVE Britain’s Heritage
Dr Catherine Croft Twentieth Century Society
Lord Alf Dubs

Answer came there none.

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Battersea Power Station: Out of the frying pan into the fire

The horror story continues…

Nightmare on Nine Elm Street

The abysmal Vinoly plans for Battersea Power Station that we had all hoped were finally dead and buried with the collapse of previous owners REO has come back to haunt all who care about the beautiful building and the quality of life for all those living in its shadow and the surrounding area.

Just when you thought it was safe Architect Viñoly has been hired as “creative brain” behind developer Mike Hussey’s plan for a new stadium for Chelsea football club. AAAHHHHHHGGGGG……

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REO collapses into administration

Real Estate Opportunities has been put into administration by a UK judge after its owners failed to repay debts of £501m owed to Lloyds Banking Group and Ireland’s National Management Asset Agency (NAMA).

Administrators Ernst & Young have taken control of the Grade II listed red-brick building and will now either sell the site or the debt to recover the amount owed. The creditors initially called in the loans on 29 November and REO was inviting offers for its controlling stake in the site soon after.

Lloyds told the Guardian: “From the outset we have been determined to secure a buyer who will kickstart the regeneration of Battersea Power Station and we have done everything possible to give the owners both the time and financial support to achieve this.”


“However, after several months of discussions and still no acceptable offers on the table, administration is the only means we have to ensure that a sales process is put back on track. Without a financially stable owner, the site’s future remains unclear and that’s a situation we want to avoid.”

Keith Garner of the Battersea Power Station Community Group, which opposed the Irish company’s plans, called for the power station to be returned to the public sector, with repairs to be funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The group said on its blog: “For the Battersea Power Station Community Group it is just another ‘new beginning’ as the fourth developer limps off stage to boos and jeers.”

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REO is falling to pieces – literally

“If there is a high wind one of the chimneys on the power station is  going to come down, so it’s better if you take them down and put them back up so that can’t happen. They’re basically un-reinforced concrete.”
Richard Barret, co-founder of Treasury Holdings, on the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, October 2011

And just a few months later their fence around the power station was blown over by a strong gust of wind. All four chimneys are still standing strong proving once again that Real Estate Opportunities‘ threats, promises and bank accounts are nothing but empty.


This picture was sent to us by Brian Barnes, founder of the Battersea Power Station Comunity Group.

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Industrial heritage “As important as our country homes and castles”

A new survey from English Heritage has found that listed industrial buildings are at the highest risk of severe neglect. Around 3% of standard grade I and II* listed buildings in England are considered to be at risk, while a staggering 11% of industrial grade I and II* listed buildings are in the same category.

Grade I and II* industrial listed buildings in England cover a variety of structures from across the industrial spectrum including Battersea Power Station.

According the English Heritage the problem is not a lack of appreciation from the public. A poll of public attitudes carried out on their behalf shows that 86% of the public agree that it is important we value and appreciate industrial heritage and 80% think it is just as important as our castles and country houses.

Despite English Heritage’s obvious concerns about the future of listed industrial heritage sites, it seems that they have some problems categorising the status of some of these sites.

Their 2011 Heritage At Risk Register lists both Battersea Power Station and the Victorian Battersea Pumping Station as “Priority D”. This means “Slow decay; solution agreed but not yet implemented”. Which is ambiguously incorrect on both fronts.

Battersea Pumping station:

The report does correctly state that this historic Victorian Pumping station is going to demolished, despite widespread and authoritative opposition, after a planning application was approved by Wandsworth Council in November 2010. So what English Heritage really mean is, it’s going to be knocked down but it hasn’t been done yet. The pump station is crucial, the only reason to demolish it  is it allows the power station owners REO,  to maximise profits. Apparently completely ignoring Malcolm Tucker of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society  who previously made it clear “that it should be possible to incorporate the conserved building within the scheme.”

Battersea Power Station:

Again the report offers clarity by stating “fresh planning and listed building applications approved 2010 subject to legal agreement for restoration, extension and conversion of Power Station to provide retail, residential flats, business, cultural, hotel and conference facilities.”

There are two problems here: 1, “D” has been the status of the power station for decades now and little has changed. 2, the fact that legal agreement is required means that a solution has not been agreed.

Priority D is therefore the developers ideal status. Using the “big bang theory of redevelopment” implementation of the “solution” can be almost permanently postponed. Rather than phased conservation and restoration the heavily indebted REO insists their preposterous scheme to “save” the power station depends of a new tube line being dug, which of course will never happen.  They claim that their “solution” to restoration depends on the creation of a whole new urban area- a scheme that looked unlikely even in the height of the property boom.

Meanwhile the building falls into decay and eventually will require demolishing for safety reason giving the developer a clear conscience and nice clear piece of land to build on. Never mind that the nation loses one of its most iconic industrial buildings that are ‘as important as our castles and country homes”.

Of course the developers could “moth ball” both buildings until such time that a genuinely appropriate and viable solution comes along, but there is no need to speculate on why they won’t do that.

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Battersea Power Station chimneys will fall in high wind, claim REO

Visit Battersea Power Station for some top notch entertainment… except on a windy day, when you’ll get a little more than you bargained for…

http://youtu.be/JWjaLR0v7Ss

Battersea Power Station’s impressive resume as an event venue has spanned across all walks of entertainment categories, from live music concerts to Hollywood movie sets. However,  Battersea’s owners, Real Estate Opportunities (REO),  have recently announced that the station’s four chimneys are dangerously close to toppling and need demolishing.

But if you think that this health and safety nightmare is going to prevent REO and Wandsworth Borough Council from inviting thousands of members of the public into the Grade II* listed building, think again. The next few months entertainment seems bigger than ever.

For instance, this October the Relentless Freeze Festival- the UK’s only snow, ski and music festival- returns to Battersea Power Station.
Here, athletes across skiing and snowboarding will compete on a 32 metres high jump constructed within the power station, complete with 500 tonnes of real snow. As competitors pound the slopes, 4 live stages will host a handful of loud music acts to an audience of up to 40,000.

The station has also been used for the Red Bull X-Fighter season, the world’s biggest Freestyle motocross championships. This November, X-Fighter is likely to attract 30,000 adrenaline junkies wishing to witness the high-octane showdown.

But it was only last Saturday that Richard Barrett, one of the co-founders of Treasury Holdings (which has a majority stake in REO), spoke to Reuters about their chimney conundrum:

“One day (if) there is a high wind there one of them is going to come down so it’s better off you take them down and put them back up so that can’t happen”

“All four of them will have to be taken down and rebuilt,” Barrett said in the interview on the sidelines of an economic forum in Dublin, “They are basically un-reinforced concrete.”

Since 2010, REO has spent nearly half a million pounds surveying and trial-repairing the four chimneys, with the rather predictable conclusion from their surveyors being that they are in “worryingly poor condition”.

Campaigners against REO’s proposals claim that plans to demolish and rebuild the chimneys- at a cost of £12m- may be the beginning of plans to eventually destroy the entire building.

A report opposing REO’s claim, collaborated in 2005 by the World Monument Fund, the Twentieth Century Society and the Battersea Power Station Company, states that there is no evidence to suggest the chimneys are structurally unsound, and that the “reinforced concrete structures” (that’s right Barrett, reinforced) are far from the end of their design life.

Brian Barnes, founder of the Battersea Power Station Community Group, said:
“There is no reason for the chimneys to be destroyed – their condition has been exaggerated.”

Actions often speak louder than words; Wandsworth Borough Council would not allow thousands of people to attend numerous sporting, music and fashion events if they thought REO’s claims were even vaguely true. Unless they plan to hand out hard hats at the beginning of every gig, of course.

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Real Estate Opportunities “debt D-day” approaches

The financial credibility of the owners of the Battersea Power Station site, REO (Real Estate Opportunities) faces a strong test on the 31st of August when payments are due to both NAMA – the Irish toxic debt bank – and Lloyds Banking group. REO’s creditors have recently appointed Ernst & Young as insolvency advisers in advance of the 31st August deadline. Further details on the ‘debt D-day’ are available via the  The Telegraph and Co Star Group.

The Battersea site was bought in 2006 by REO, which is in majority owned by Irish group Treasury Holdings. This purchase occurred during the craziest period of the Irish property bubble. We can see remnants of the bubble in the current development proposal for the Power Station site. The plans bear all the hallmarks of the worst in speculative urban development that occurred during the bubble. However London has remained somewhat immune to the property bubble, and developers are happy to continue with business as usual and forget anything ever happened. This ‘developers dementia’ is of course good news for REO’s creditors NAMA who have been actively encouraged by some commentators to keep inflating a London property bubble.

Within all of this financial wheeling and dealing the real question is being ignored. That is not how long REO can sustain its current level of debt, but one of how long more the planning authorities in London will go on supporting the speculative urban development charade that inflates such bubbles.

The Battersea site is to be developed with a FAR (Floor Area Ratio) of roughly 5.0. This density is above average for London and well above an acceptable maximum density for a northern European city. Such densities sacrifice important basic human needs like daylight and turn open spaces and streets into canyon like wind tunnels. The only purpose such densities serve is to maximise short term profits for developers.

London’s planning authorities need to develop new thinking and approaches to the development of such iconic locations. Which have at their heart urban design that pays regard to human scale and the longer term societal, environmental and cultural needs of the city, rather than pandering to the demands of the demented developers.

 

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Battersea Power Station: an open letter to the Science Museum

thinks..one day all this will be allowed to rot...

Keith Garner is a Battersea-based architect and member of the Battersea Power Station Community Group who has recently addressed an open letter to the new head of the Science Museum, Ian Blatchford, proposing a collaborative arrangement between private developers and public institutions to secure the future of the Battersea Power Station.

It has been suggested several times that parts of the Station, especially the famous ‘A’ Station Turbine Hall and Control Room, would work well as a museum of industry or science, and this proposal was raised again at a lecture on the future of Battersea Power Station delivered by architecture historian Gavin Stamp recently. After attending the lecture, Keith drafted a letter to Ian Blatchford proposing the idea of a collaborative effort between the Science Museum and developers.

Battersea Power Station’s owners, Treasury Holdings, are currently in financial difficulty because of the Irish banking crisis and it looks likely that they will soon be forced to sell to another private developer, and there’s little to suggest that a new private owner would fare any better at Battersea Power Station than their three predecessors.

A joint venture would not only guarantee public access to the BPS, but also give private developers a greater chance of success in their plans for the site.

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