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 – what is the future?

Our film Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon, has recently been screened at Goldsmiths University, in Leiden as part of the LISFE Architecture Week, and at the 3rd International Congress on Industrial Heritage in Lisbon. These screenings have generated further interest in the tragic plight of this building and the detrimental effects of developer led conservation on listed buildings. Combined with the recent unveiling of the new Tate Modern extension, it raises questions over how the unlisted Bankside Power Station is protected by public use and interest, while the listed Battersea Power Station, still standing with just one chimney, is for private profit only.

BPS

Battersea Power Station with one fake chimney.

Keith Garner, an architect who works on the conservation of historic buildings and landscapes, is a member of the Battersea Power Station Community Group, and is featured in the film. At the Lisbon conference, Garner and Kett Murphy delivered a presentation, ‘Power Stations for the People’, which highlighted the comparison between the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station against that of Bankside Power Station, which has since become the Tate Modern. While Bankside was regenerated for recreational purposes very successfully, Battersea Power Station continues to lie at the mercy of aggressive speculative development. The contrasting redevelopment of these two buildings is crucial in understanding the issues of building preservation in an age of redevelopment.

Both Bankside and Battersea Power Station were designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, described as ‘cathedrals of power’, and considered of major architectural importance. And yet, when it came to development plans for both buildings, only Bankside’s value as a potential public asset was considered. When the Tate Modern acquired the building in 1994 to house a collection of modern art, it ultimately revitalised the area, while still maintaining the original character of the building. The transition from power station to art museum is today considered a huge success. Following the gallery’s £260m revamp, which was launched on June 17, the Chairman of the Tate stated that: ‘A building that was once London’s beating heart is now its cultural cathedral.’

However, as Garner and Murphy highlighted at the Lisbon conference, the development plans for Battersea Power Station don’t seem to be focused around the preservation of a listed Art Deco building, or the drive to create another cultural space like the Tate. Under the financing of Malaysian real estate investment consortium, led by Sime Darby, the power station will be swamped by high rise, luxury apartments, enclosed in a gated community and only accessible to the public during the day. As we have previously reported, the power station itself is in danger of becoming virtually unrecognisable, with growing concern over whether the iconic chimneys will ever be rebuilt. Unlike the regeneration of the Tate Modern, whose success is ultimately based on its inclusivity and openness, Battersea, as we have tried to highlight in our film, is becoming defined by its elitism and exclusivity. Despite Boris Johnson’s pledges that property developed at the power station would be sold to Londoners first, our investigations suggest otherwise, with findings exposing that 55% of the homes sold so far actually went to foreign money.

Battersea’s ‘regeneration’ threatens to be solely for the purpose of private economic gain. As Garner asserts, the developers have taken ‘no account of its (Battersea Power Station) dignity, reverence and serenity.’ The Battersea Power Station Community Group’s plans have ultimately been realised in the Tate Modern. However, the recent Switch House extension, a 200ft pyramid-like tower featuring three new galleries and a panoramic roof terrace, just reinforces how, if re-development and preservation had started with Battersea rather than Bankside, which is a third of the size, no such extensions would have been needed. Instead, funds are raised in order for the Tate to house 60% more artworks, whilst Battersea Power Station falls into further dereliction.

Through the re-circulating of our film, these issues of developer led conservation are once again being brought to attention. The way the Tate extension is being praised for transforming the building into ‘one of the world’s cutting edge art spaces’, only emphasises the stark contrast between the two power stations. Our film remains essential in raising an awareness that heritage led regeneration cannot, ultimately, be short-circuited, and that respect for the historic environment is paramount.

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Love me! Help me! – can art save Battersea Power Station?

Brian's poster

As Chairman of Battersea Power Station Community Group Brian Barnes has fought for the power station for 32 years.

The Battersea Power Station has without a doubt a special place in many Londoners hearts. It has this word presence – not many buildings have been featured in popular culture as much as the iconic building based on a river side site next to Thames.

Now the power station is facing a massive re-generation scheme led by the Battersea Power Station Development Company, a Malaysian consortium in charge of the ambitious building project. The scheme has stormed critique especially among local residents.

One of them is Brian Barnes, a mural artist who have been the fighting for the Battersea Power Station over three decades. Brian is Chairman of Battersea Power Station Community Group which has been campaigning to save the power station and to inform people about what the local community thinks about the redevelopment plans.

The Battersea Power Station has inspired Brian’s artwork and the posters made by Brian have been part of the Battersea Power Station Community Group’s campaign. One of Brian’s posters represent what Pink Floyd did in 1976. A helium filled 45 long pig was anchored to the chimney for the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animal album. “Battersea Power Station and the pig go together like peaches and cream” Brian says.

Algie

The iconic rock image Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig Algie has inspired Brian Barnes’ posters. Algie famously flew over Battersea Power Station for Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover in 1976.

However the pig isn’t the only animal Brian has used in his artwork. Orangutangs have also been a common feature in Brian’s art inspired by the power station. This is because one of the companies that owns the power station, Sime Darby – one of the biggest palm oil producers in the world – is cutting down a rainforest in equatorial zones and destroying the natural habitats of orangutangs.

“If they can do that in Borneo and threaten the rainforest and the orangutangs, I don’t think they are going to be much bothered about a building of brick”, Brian adds.

“On Valentine’s day we put up a big ‘Love’ banner up on the chimneys with a heart on it. That got everyone interested in loving Battersea Power Station”, Brian says. The 45 foot long banners which the Community Group members strung up between the chimneys have also said ‘Love me’ and ‘Help me’.

Brian believes that art helps to galvanise people’s attention to the power station and what’s going on: “Whether the chimneys are coming down or whether there is too much luxury housing around it or whether the tube station is really going to be useful for the local people”.

Brian and mural

A mural ‘Battersea in perspective’ was made in 1988. The mural including Battersea Power Station ‘is all about the Battersea area and people who are famous of being Battersea residents’ Brian says.

“Battersea Power Station missed out being an art gallery because it didn’t have a roof” Brian says referring to the Bankside power station which now serves as the Tate Modern.

The chimneys of the Battersea Power Station have been a significant part of Brian’s art. “If all the chimneys are down and the present Battersea Power Station Development Company leaves then you would have a box of brick with no chimneys”, Brian worries. At the moment the chimneys are indeed going down in order to be rebuild.

Perhaps art cannot save the Battersea Power Station. However it has spread the message of what is happening and helped social change by being a part of a wider campaign. “I used it (Battersea Power Station) as an image to represent Battersea”, Brian says and what is sure is that his campaign to save the power station isn’t over yet.

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Battersea Power Station: ghost flats worth £1.8bn!

Versione in Italiano

We learned from the pages of London Evening Standard that “More than £1.8 billion worth of homes have been sold at Battersea Power Station since they went on the market in January last year”. None on these flats have been built yet.

Apparently most of this £1.8 billion came from the fortunate global launch that Battersea Power Station Development Company organized last month.  As we already suspected, the search for overseas investors has not been affected by fear of the chinese property bubble bursting – the due date of which is still under discussion among financial analysts.  The threat of a Mansion Tax did not slow the rush of foreigners to use their deep pockets in order to get their piece of Battersea Power Station. Even if the London property market, as shown in Estate Agents Knight Frank’s report (see below), has appeared to slow down in the last few months, off-plan sales seem to work pretty well.Taking Battersea Power Station as reference for this trend, The Newstatesman  recently reported that:

“Off-plan profits hit the headlines last week with reports that a studio flat in Battersea power station, sold for close to £1m in the spring, is now due to go back on the market for up to £1.5m before it has even been built.”

Before anything has even been built, and while our concerns about the “Big Bang” business model of monstrous development projects are all to be proven erroneous, Battersea Power Station Development Company has actually done what all Battersea Power Station’s previous developers have already proven to be masters at: demolition!

Battersea Power Station: photograph taken by Spectacle on 08/12/2014

The first chimney of Battersea Power Station is gone. In the next weeks we will probably see it to come slowly back to a new life while the other three will start coming down all at once. We hope that the £1.8 billion will give Battersea Power Station Development Company enough energy to prove that, other than demolitions, they are good at building too.

 

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Battersea Power Station: appartamenti fantasma già venduti per £1.8 miliardi!

English version

Abbiamo appreso dalle pagine del London Evening Standard che “More than £1.8 billion worth of homes have been sold at Battersea Power Station since they went on the market in January last year”. Nessuno di questi appartamenti è stato ancora costruito.

A quanto pare la maggior parte di questi £1.8 miliardi proviene dalle vendite avvenute durante il fortunato lancio globale che la Battersea Power Station Development Company ha organizzato il mese scorso. Come sospettavamo, la ricerca di investitori stanieri non è stata resa difficoltosa dalle paure riguardanti l’esplosione della bolla immobiliare cinese – gli analisti finanziari stanno ancora discutendo su quando ciò avverrà. La minaccia di una Mansion Tax (tassa su immobili di lusso) non ha rallentato la corsa degli investitori stranieri per accaparrarsi il proprio costoso pezzo di Battersea Power Station. Nonostante il mercato immobiliare londinese, come mostrato dal report dell’agenzia immobiliare Knight Frank (vedi sotto), ha mostrato rallentamenti nel corso degli ultimi mesi, le vendite su progetto sembrano funzionare molto bene.Prendendo la Battersea Power Station come esempio di questa tendenza, recentemente The Newstatesman ha scritto:

“Off-plan profits hit the headlines last week with reports that a studio flat in Battersea power station, sold for close to £1m in the spring, is now due to go back on the market for up to £1.5m before it has even been built.”

Prima che sia stato costruito alcunché, e mentre le nostre preoccupazioni riguardanti il “Big Bang” dei modelli finanziari usati dai grandi progetti di sviluppo immobiliare aspettano di essere falsificate dai fatti,  Battersea Power Station Development Company ha già realizzato l’unica cosa che  tutti i precedenti costruttori impegnati nel progetto hanno mostrato di fare con maestria: demolire!

Battersea Power Station: fotografia scattata da  Spectacle il giorno 08/12/2014

Battersea Power Station: fotografia scattata da Spectacle il giorno 08/12/2014

La prima ciminiera della Battersea Power Station è andata. Nelle prossime settimane assisteremo con ogni probabilità al suo lento ritorno a nuova vita, mentre le altre tre ciminiere verranno smantellate contemporaneamente. Speriamo che i £1.8 miliardi daranno alla Battersea Power Station Development Company energia sufficiente per provare che, oltre a demolire, sono capaci anche a costruire.

 

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Selling Battersea Power Station over stormy seas

Versione in Italiano

 

Why has the demolition of the south west chimney at Battersea Power Station apparently come to a stop?

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

Chimneys on October 21th

Chimneys on October 21st

Maybe the project has hit a technical snag- the chimneys are far more robust than the Battersea Power Station Development Company have wanted to admit – but it could also be that it is a barometer of the global economy and an indication of how vulnerable their business model really is. The business model of the current owners, like the previous ones, is a precarious one based on an ever increasing UK property market.

However the current economic climate is not looking good. The property market, according to most informed opinion, has plateaued and, in London, is in danger of going down.

Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist at Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in an article about the UK’s Property Market says:

“As a result of the rebalancing in demand and supply, house price growth across the UK appears to be moderating […] prices are still projected to rise nationally over the next year and expected to increase by 2.6% on a 12 month view (compared with around 4% at the start of the year)”
The pound is getting stronger against currencies like the Euro (Milan and Paris are targeted cities for the Battersea Power Station Development Company), making London a less attractive investment and interest rates are going up.

(www.xe.com)

(www.xe.com)

The Labour Party, if they win the election in May 2015, which if due only to the metronomic pendulum swing of UK politics between the two major parties, is a distinct possibility, are promising a “Mansion tax” on all properties worth more than £2m (here is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ opinion about the Mansion Tax).

Then there is the UK housing crisis, caused in large part by the selling of London property to foreign investors who have no intention of living in the properties they buy. Whoever wins the next election they need to address this and no solution will leave the property market untouched.

The Financial Times seems to support our worries in a recent article:

“Uncertainty around new property taxes, the strength of the pound on global currency markets and the introduction last year of a tax on homes held through companies have all contributed to the slowdown, according to those involved in trading properties.”

The same article gives us a quite impressive picture of the property market situation.

Some data about English Property Market, as published by Financial Times on

Some data about English Property Market, as published by the Financial Times.

Perhaps the emphasis on selling off-plan to overseas investors is because while there are plenty of rich in the UK  they might be a harder sell being better informed. Overseas investors, basing their judgement on futuristic artists impressions are unlikely to be aware of the smelly and disruptive waste processing plant with its hundreds of daily truck deliveries of reeking rubbish.

Our two faced Mayor of London Boris Johnson, ever the populist, plays it both ways, touring China promoting the London property market as an investment and for a local audience blaming that very market on the chronic housing shortage.

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from http://www.ballymoregroup.com/en-GB/news/41)

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from www.ballymoregroup.com)

It might be coincidence but in the week the Chimney demolition halted it was reported that the Chinese property bubble would burst soon, probably 2015, with catastrophic ripple effect on the global economy and international banking- possibly triggering a global crash.

As Bloomberg reported recently:

“The Chinese crash might make 2008 look like a garden party. As the risks of one increase, it’s worth exploring how it might look. After all, China is now the world’s biggest trading nation, the second-biggest economy and holder of some $4 trillion of foreign-currency reserves. If China does experience a true credit crisis, it would be felt around the world.
[…]
The potential for things careening out of control in China are real. What worries bears such as Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management in New York, is China’s unaltered obsession with building the equivalent of new “Manhattans” almost overnight even as the nation’s financial system shows signs of buckling. As policy makers in Beijing generate even more credit to keep bubbles from bursting, the shadow banking system continues to grow.”

This week the Battersea Power Station Development Company launched their overseas selling campaign of luxury apartments. Three of the cities targeted are Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong- all especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the Chinese economy.

The new owners are no different to all the previous owners – they are just better at PR and have better access to overseas markets. As before, despite the excellent PR hype suggesting that “at last work has started”, bolstered shamelessly by a “purse whipped” English Heritage, the only thing the current owners have actually done is demolish – they are taking down the chimneys, demolishing the precious, Grade II listed Victorian pumping station and removing the iconic listed cranes.

In other words the new owners are just flipping the Battersea Power Station. Selling today artists impressions of what MIGHT be built in the future.

We wonder what guarantees prospective buyers have that the off-plan flats they are buying will actually materialise. But then, having more money than sense, they probably do not care.

 

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Battersea Power Station in vendita per mari perigliosi

English Version

 

Come mai i lavori di demolizione della ciminiera sudovest di Battersea Power Station sembrano essersi fermati?

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

Come apparivano le ciminiere di Battersea Power Station il 27 settembre scorso

Chimneys on October 21th

Le ciminiere di Battersea Power Station il 21 ottobre

Il progetto si è forse incagliato su qualche scoglio tecnico – le ciminiere sono molto più resistenti di quanto la Battersea Power Station Development Company sia disposta ad ammettere – o dipende dall’andamento dell’economia globale e si tratta, quindi, di un indicatore sulla vulnerabilità del piano finanziario del progetto? Il modello economico seguito dagli attuali proprietari, così come dai precedenti, è alquanto precario basandosi in gran parte sull’idea di un mercato immobiliare britannico in continua crescita.

Guarda caso le previsioni economiche attuali non guardano al bello. Il mercato immobiliare, secondo le opinioni degli esperti, è in stagnazione e, a Londra, corre il rischio di deflazione.

Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist del Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in un articolo mercato immobiliare nel Regno Unito afferma:

“As a result of the rebalancing in demand and supply, house price growth across the UK appears to be moderating […] prices are still projected to rise nationally over the next year and expected to increase by 2.6% on a 12 month view (compared with around 4% at the start of the year)”

La sterlina sta diventando sempre più forte nei confronti dell’Euro (Milano e Parigi sono obbiettivi per il mercato della Battersea Power Station Development Company), rendendo Londra una città meno attrente in cui investire, con tassi di interesse in crescita.

(www.xe.com)

(www.xe.com)

Il partito laburista, in caso di successo alle elezioni generali di Maggio 2015 – possibilità dovuta al fatto che l’alternaza tra i due maggiori partiti della politica britannica è inevitabile come il movimento di un metronomo – ha promesso la cosiddetta “Mansion Tax”, una tassazione aggiuntiva su tutti gli immobili di valore superiore a 2 milioni di sterline (qui è possibile leggere l’opinione del Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors sulla Mansion Tax).

Poi c’è la crisi abitativa, causata in gran parte dalla vendita di immobili londinesi a investitori stranieri, i quali non hanno nessuna intenzione di vivere nelle case che comprano. Chiunque vinca le prossime elezioni dovrà mettere mano a questo problema, e qualuque possibile soluzione avrà inevitabili ricadute sul mercato immobiliare.

The Financial Times, in un recente articolo, sembra supportare le nostre preoccupazioni:

“Uncertainty around new property taxes, the strength of the pound on global currency markets and the introduction last year of a tax on homes held through companies have all contributed to the slowdown, according to those involved in trading properties.”

Lo stesso articolo è corredato da una fotografia impressionante della situazione che sta attraversando il mercato immobiliare.

Some data about English Property Market, as published by Financial Times on

Dati riguardanti il mercato immobiliare britannico, pubblicati su The Financial Times.

Può darsi che l’enfasi riposta sui piani di vendita a investitori stranieri, quando c’è abbondanza di ricchi anche nel Regno Unito, sia dovuta al fatto che gli investitori locali siano più difficili da convincere visto che sono meglio informati. Gli investitori stranieri, che fondano i loro giudizi su impressioni artistiche e futuristiche, sono probabilmente inconsapevoli dell’olezzo disgustoso proveniente dall’impianto di smaltimento dei rifiuti presente nell’area, con le centinaia di camion che quotidianamente vi riversano fatiscenti carichi d’immondizia.

L’eclettico Sindaco di Londra Boris Johnson, anche nella sua versione più populista, fa il doppio gioco: va in tour in Cina per promuovere investimenti nel mercato immobiliare londinese, mentre al pubblico londinese indica proprio questo modello di mercato come causa della cronica mancanza di abitazioni.

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from http://www.ballymoregroup.com/en-GB/news/41)

Boris Johnson interviene al lancio delle vendite del London City Island, in un evento organizzato dall’impresa Ballymore il 18 ottobre ad Hong Kong. (Fonte: www.ballymoregroup.com)

Può darsi che si tratti di una coincidenza, ma nella stessa settimana in cui la demolizione della ciminiera si è fermata sono stati pubblicati resoconti che indicano come la bolla immobiliare cinese stia per esplodere presto, forse già nel 2015, con catastrofiche ricadute sull’economia globale e sulla finanza internazionale – con la possibilità di innescare una crisi globale.

Come riportato recentemente da Bloomberg:

“The Chinese crash might make 2008 look like a garden party. As the risks of one increase, it’s worth exploring how it might look. After all, China is now the world’s biggest trading nation, the second-biggest economy and holder of some $4 trillion of foreign-currency reserves. If China does experience a true credit crisis, it would be felt around the world.
[…]
The potential for things careening out of control in China are real. What worries bears such as Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management in New York, is China’s unaltered obsession with building the equivalent of new “Manhattans” almost overnight even as the nation’s financial system shows signs of buckling. As policy makers in Beijing generate even more credit to keep bubbles from bursting, the shadow banking system continues to grow.”

Questa settimana la Battersea Power Station Development Company ha portato i suoi appartamenti di lusso in una campagna di vendite in giro per il mondo. Tre città raggiunte dalla campagna sono Pechino, Shangai e Hong Kong, tutte particolarmente esposte agli alti e bassi dell’economia cinese.

I nuovi proprietari non sono molto diversi da quelli precedentivi – sono solo più bravi in PR e hanno un migliore accesso ai mercati internazionali. Come in passato, nonostante gli eccellente battage pubblicitario sostenga che “finalmente i lavori sono iniziati”, sotenuto senza pudore dall’English Heritage, l’unica cosa che i nuovi proprietari hanno fatto in realtà è stato demolire – stanno abbattendo le ciminiere, demolendo la deliziosa e protetta Victorian pumping station e rimuovendo le iconiche (e protette) gru.

In altre parole i nuovi proprietari stanno facendo il loro gioco con la Battersea Power Station. Vendono oggi immagini fantastiche di ciò che POTREBBE essere costruito in futuro.

Ci chiediamo che tipo di garanzie vengano fornite agli eventuali acquirenti stranieri circa il fatto che gli apparatamenti che stanno comprando sulla carta vengano effettivamente realizzati. Alla fine, avendo costoro più soldi che giudizio, forse gli non importa più di tanto.

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Battersea Power Station: da icona rock a speculazione

In questi giorni Battersea Power Station andrà in giro per il mondo a vendersi. Un tour pubblicitario globale per lanciare, probabilmente, il più grande progetto di sviluppo immobiliare del momento a Londra e, certamente, tra i più controversi. La pubblicità è iniziata con un articolo di Enrico Francechini su Repubblica, che presenta il megaprogetto per i suoi aspetti avveniristici. Tuttavia non coglie gli aspetti critici della speculazione edilizia, il contesto di housing crisis e il rischio di cancellare l’icona del passato industriale Londinese (in bello stile art deco) lungamente denunciato dal Battersea Power Station Community Group. Un recente articolo del Financial Times, dando spazio al World Monument Fund e alle sue preoccupazioni, ci sembra che tenti di contestualizzare il lavoro dell’impresa immobiliare (Battersea Power Station Development Company).

Il brand usato dalla Battersea Power Station Developing Company

Il brand usato dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company

Probabilmente per un italiano medio Battersea Power Station non significa granché, ma se aggiungi la copertina di Animals dei Pink Floyd allora dalla memoria qualcosa affiora.

Copertina del celebre album  Animals dei Pink Floyd

Copertina del celebre album
Animals dei Pink Floyd

Per i londinesi Battersea Power Station rappresenta molto di più: un’icona del passato industriale e un punto interrogativo sul futuro dello sviluppo immobiliare della capitale britannica. Costruita a partire dagli anni ’30, questa cattedrale industriale fino all’inizio degli anni ’80 ha fornito elettricità alla metropoli, calore nelle sue case e ha dato un decisivo contributo alle affascinanti e nebbiose atmosfere stile “fumo di londra”.

Contributo della Battersea Power Station all'inquinamento di Londra e alle sue atmosfere fumose (getty images)

Contributo della Battersea Power Station all’inquinamento di Londra e alle sue atmosfere fumose (getty images)

Battersea Power Station fa parte dell’immaginario di milioni di frequentatori della capitale, stagliandosi nei finestrini dei pendolari che ogni giorno transitano dalle stazioni ferroviarie di Vauxall, Clapham e Victoria Station.  La bellezza dell’edificio e delle enormi ciminiere bianche, il condensato di storia industriale che incarnano hanno fatto sì che la Battersea Power Station entrasse già nel 1980 nella lista degli edifici storici.  A partire dal 2004 il prestigioso World Monument Fund ha incluso Battersea Power Station e le sue ciminiere nella lunga lista di edifici patrimonio dell’umanità che necessitano di essere protetti per i posteri. Ma da cosa bisogna proteggere Battersea Power Station?

Chiusi i battenti, l’enorme area industriale attorno alla centrale elettrica e lo stesso edificio sono a lungo rimasti abbandonati a se stessi, passando di mano in mano tra diversi investitori che hanno tentato di proporre i più disparati progetti di sviluppo, mai andati oltre annunci o parziali demolizioni dell’esistente (come il tetto, per esempio, da parte di precedenti proprietari)

STORIA DELLA BATTERSEA POWER STATION

Primi Piani: 1980-90

Nuovi Piani: 1993

GIORNI NOSTRI

Ma questa volta la Battersea Power Station Development Company, braccio operativo di una cordata di società e istituti finanziari della Malesia, sembra fare sul serio: archistars (Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Rafael Vinoly), budget faraonico (8 miliardi di sterline, circa 10 miliardi di euro) e la benedizione di sindaco e primi ministri dovrebbero permettere di creare, la’ dove ora c’e’ una cadente centrale elettrica, il centro di una nuova città nella città.

Da sinistra: il sindaco di Londra (Boris Johnson) il primo ministro inglese (David Cameron) e il primo ministro della Malesia Datuk Seri Najib Razak alla cerimonia d'inizio lavori alla Battersea Power Station (4 luglio 2013). Source: Daily Telegraph

Da sinistra: il sindaco di Londra (Boris Johnson) il primo ministro inglese (David Cameron) e il primo ministro della Malesia (Datuk Seri Najib Razak) alla cerimonia d’inizio lavori alla Battersea Power Station (4 luglio 2013). Source: Daily Telegraph

In questi giorni la Battersea Power Station Development Company porta in un tour globale i suoi progetti, in cerca di investitori stranieri pronti ad acquistare un posto nel nuovo nel centro che hanno intenzine di costruire. Anche gli Italiani avranno modo di esserne parte: la campagna pubblicitaria passerà da Milano dal 5 al 9 novembre. Per chi si fosse perso la notizia, il lancio del tour, almeno per il pubblico italiano, è avvenuto grazie a un lungo articolo di Repubblica che porta la prestigiosa firma di Enrico Franceschini, suo inviato a Londra.

Invitato dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company a “dare un’occhiata da vicino e a fare due chiacchiere”, l’inviato restituisce un entusiastico affresco delle infinite capacità di una città capace di guardare al futuro per reinventarsi attraverso progetti da sogno. Tra le righe Franceschini sembra quasi suggerire di prendere esempio e evidenziare ciò che manca a noi poveri italiani, impelagati nel presente e appesantiti da un passato di cui non sappiamo bene cosa fare. Chi si prenderebbe la briga di reinventare quartieri interi, investire miliardi per il futuro di Roma o Milano?
A Londra invece si può e la Battersea Power Station Development Company pensa a tutto: giardini d’inverno sul tetto della centrale, negozi e spazi espositivi, oltre che spazi abitativi per 100.000 persone e una deviazione della metro fino nel cuore del nuovo e straordinario “villaggio”.

Allora benvenuto sviluppo e capacita’ di fare: benvenuta “Città Futura!”

Veduta aerea del progetto come dovrà essere a conclusione lavori. In mezzo ai grattacieli si intravede la centrale elettrica.

Veduta aerea del progetto come dovrà essere a conclusione lavori. In mezzo ai grattacieli si intravede la centrale elettrica.

Peccato che dal simpatico affresco del nostro caro Franceschini manchino un po’ di fatti e alcuni altri vengono presentati in maniera tanto semplicistica da apparirci sbagliati, o perlomeno fuorvianti. Per chi non abbia ancora avuto la possibilità di saperne di più, ecco i principali.

Londra è probabilmente al picco del suo mercato immobiliare e, contemporaneamente, della sua capacità di attrarre migranti d’ogni sorta dal resto del mondo. Con il venir meno di piani e finanziamenti per abitazioni sociali e un mercato pompato da enormi liquidità provenienti dai gruppi finanziari e magnati di mezzo mondo, la gente “normale” si trova coinvolta in una paurosa crisi abitativa. Il fenomeno va avanti da almeno trent’anni ma gli effetti, in un contesto di crisi, austerità e con un mercato degli affitti alle stelle, sono devastanti e raggiungono fasce sempre più ampie della popolazione. Mentre si investono miliardi in edifici avveniristici, a Londra non ci sono nuovi appartamenti, non dico per i poveracci immigrati da mezzo mondo, ma nemmeno per la middle class locale.

Il Financial Times, invitato a scrivere sul progetto più o meno come Repubblica, riporta l’opinione di Peter Rees, un famoso urbanista, esperto di pianificazione e docente al prestigioso University College London.

“Peter Rees  […] has described the proliferation of new, largely residential, towers along the south bank between Battersea and London Bridge as “a disaster” that is “ruining London”.”

Questo parere tombale introduce un rapido excursus dei problemi relazionati al mercato immobiliare londinese e ai megaprogetti di sviluppo, come quello di Battersea. Non che il Financial Times sia la bibbia, o che le preoccupazioni del pubblico britannico siano le stesse di quello italiano, ma forse contestualizzare un po’ questo progetto sarebbe stato interessante anche per i lettori di Repubblica. Soprattutto coloro che si apprestano a valutare da vicino, come suggerito dall’articolo, la possibilità di acquistare un appartamento nel complesso della Battersea Power Station.

Per Franceschini a Battersea “…se c’è un difetto è quello che la Città Futura sulla riva sud del Tamigi sembra un set cinematografico […] Ma lo stesso si può dire di Canary Wharf, la nuova City degli affari più a est sempre affacciata al fiume, o dell’Olympic Park, il quartiere dell’East Side rigenerato dalle Olimpiadi del 2012. Con un po’ d’immaginazione si può intravedere come sarà la Londra del 2020 o del 2030, un po’ New York, un po’ Las Vegas, un po’ Old London, un po’ Luna Park.”

Secondo noi di difetti (e rischi) ce ne sono, e sono ben altri.

Ciò che ha reso Battersea Power Station l’icona gotico industriale che attualmente rappresenta sono le ciminiere bianche. In passato Spectacle ha supportato e documentato su questo blog le campagne in difesa della centrale e, in particolare, delle sue ciminiere. La proprietà sostiene che le ciminiere siano un pericolo, in quanto danneggiate dal tempo e rese pericolanti dalla mancanza di manutenzione degli ultimi 30 anni almeno. A tale scopo Battersea Power Station Development Company ha in mente di demolirle per sostituirle con copie nuove di zecca che ne garantiscano la solidità per gli anni a venire.
Franceschini affronta l’argomento con un simpatico, quanto sibillino, inciso che potrebbe apparire di poco conto:

“Non c’è pericolo che i comignoli bianchi cadano in testa ai nuovi inquilini: quelli verranno abbattuti delicatamente e rifatti uguali ai vecchi ma nuovi, per ragioni di sicurezza, mentre il resto dell’antica struttura, ben rinforzato, rimarrà dov’è.”

In realtà questa è precisamente la posizione dell’impresa, il cui CEO è arrivato a paventare rischi imminenti di crolli, anche in caso di folate di vento più forti del solito.
Diversi elementi fanno dubitare sul fatto che le ciminiere rappresentino un pericolo concreto. Se le nostre inchieste e le interviste realizzate con i membri del Battersea Power Station Community Group, promotori delle campagne di difesa della centrale da speculazioni e distruzioni, possono sembrare parziali, torniamo al Financial Times e a come affronta lo stesso argomento.
La scelta, in questo caso, è stata quella di affidare al World Monument Fund uno spazio in calce all’articolo per presentare la propria posizione nei confronti del progetto. Dalle righe a firma Jonathan Foyle, chief executive del World Monuments Fund Britain, si scopre che questa pericolosità è contestata da tre autorevoli studi:

“In 2005, three engineers concluded the existing chimneys could be repaired in-situ. Instead, they are to be razed and rebuilt as smoke stacks that never smoked, reducing long-term maintenance.”

Fatto sta che le ciminiere stanno venendo giù, e anche rapidamente, in barba a tutti i tentativi operati dagli attivisti del Battersea Power Station Community Group di far valutare a impresa e municipio piani alternativi di restauro. Inoltre le garanzie predisposte affinché l’impresa effettivamente proceda alla ricostruzione delle ciminiere sembrano essere state aggirate. Se in un primo momento il municipio aveva imposto alla compagnia di procedere alla demolizione e immediata ricostruzione di una ciminiera per volta, nuovi accordi hanno stabilito che dopo aver abbattuto e cominciato a ricostruire la prima ciminiera, le altre tre potranno essere smantellate tutte insieme.

Inoltre è stato chiesto all’impresa di depositare in un conto vincolato fondi sufficienti a garantire la ricostruzione, anche in caso di fallimento improvviso o vendita a terzi del progetto (le dinamiche del passato fanno credere che non siano ipotesi tanto remote…). Il fondo depositato è di 11 milioni di sterline (14 milioni in euro, un po’ pochino a detta di un ingegnere della stessa Battersea Power Station Development Company) e il deposito è stato effettuato in una banca malese. Secondo gli attivisti in caso di effettivo fallimento della Battersea Power Station Development Company, sarebbe quasi impossibile riscuotere i soldi di garanzia.

Battersea Power Station è solo uno dei centinaia di progetti di development finanziati da gruppi immobiliari a capitale britannico o internazionale, tutti extralusso. Questi progetti spesso creano bellissimi e avveniristici quartieri, ma spettrali: i primi acquirenti sono, normalmente, gruppi immobiliari e affaristi di mezzo mondo che comprano e vendono appartamenti come titoli azionari. Questi proprietari, che Battersea Power Station Development Company apparentemente sta cercando di raggiungere nel suo tour globale, sono normalmente in cerca di curve di mercato che garantiscano utili, più che di esperienze urbanistiche e vedute mozzafiato. Lo scarso interesse verso la reale esperienza abitativa degli investitori rende più che sospettosi circa l’attenzione che la Battersea Power Station Development Company riporrà nella salvaguardia architettonica del sito.

 

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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A brief update on Battersea Power Station and the Nine Elms development

bps2

As construction work progresses on the Battersea Power Station site, the Battersea Power Station Development Company’s (BPSDC) ambitious plans for the project appear to be moving rapidly forwards too; last week it was revealed that the company have made an official bid for the proposed Crossrail 2 line to serve the location. An extension of the Northern Line, Charing Cross Branch, is already planned (and will be partially financed by Sime Darby, the Malaysian consortium behind the Battersea Power Station Development Company) from Kennington to the Power Station. The Evening Standard reports that TfL is citing this as a reason to distance itself from the proposal, insisting Battersea Power Station will already be adequately connected.

Meanwhile, on the ground Everyman continue to lease an area in front of the Power Station to screen films and sell expensive, ‘ethnic’ food in the evenings from Thursday to Sunday. Last week our interns, Charlotte and Marta, risked death by falling chimney chunk to check out the event and sneak some surreptitious footage. Surprisingly they survived, reporting only giant Jenga pieces flying around.

Elsewhere, on the neighbouring Nine Elms site, all-consuming construction work has spilled out onto the Thames Path, limiting access to Tideway Village, a floating community of houseboats now overhung by the Riverlight development buildings.

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Health and safety gone mad?… Events held at Battersea Power Station despite ‘big chunks falling off’ chimneys

The first of Battersea Power Station’s emblematic cream chimneys is likely to be demolished this month by its current owners, the Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC), which is part of the Sime Darby consortium. The company claims its intention is to replace the chimneys – which it says are beyond repair (despite evidence to the contrary) – with identical replicas. However both John Broome’s precedent and discrepancies between the company’s reasoning and its actions suggest this might never happen, as, of course, does the commercial potential of the site, without the power station sitting awkwardly in the centre of it.

Footage shows Robert Tincknell, Chief Executive Officer of Battersea Power Station Development Company, insisting that the chimneys have “structurally failed” and that “big chunks are falling off”. However the company continues to lease the site for public events, including Everyman Cinema film screenings and ‘Street Feasts’, held in the shadow of the chimneys Tincknell says are disintegrating. Event-goers have not been told to wear hard hats or other protective gear, but perhaps this is because these things would be useless in the event that an entire chimney is brought down by high wind, as Richard Barrett, an Irish property investor who co-owned Battersea Power Station before it was bought by the Sime Darby consortium, has previously suggested may happen at any time.

The Sime Darby consortium – which has been accused of exploiting the local community at their oil palm plantation in Liberia – have so far put up only £11 million of bond money to guarantee the replacement of the chimneys, a woefully small sum, and one suggested by their own employee, Philip Gullet, Chief Operating Officer at Battersea Power Station Development Company. In addition to this the bond money has been deposited into an account with Malaysian bank CIMB, making it more difficult for Wandsworth Council and English Heritage to access it in the event that Battersea Power Station Development Company default. According to campaigners, it is imperative to its retrieval that the bond money is moved to a British bank account.

In response to these criticisms, Battersea Power Station Development Company have agreed to a meagre compromise; they will demolish one chimney to begin with and must partially rebuild this before they can demolish the other three. This is still flouting the Council’s original rules, which said that the chimneys must be demolished one at a time.
Campaigners believe that partially rebuilding one tower is not enough to guarantee the completion of four new chimneys. They suggest that Battersea Power Station Development Company are clearing the site little by little and point to the fact that, despite owning a vast swathe of riverfront, Battersea Power Station Development Company have removed the power station’s listed cranes purportedly to allow the chimney rubble to be removed by boat. There are concerns that the cranes won’t be brought back, and some consider their removal to be further evidence that Sime Darby have no intention of actually renovating the power station.

However, in an unusually considerate move,Battersea Power Station Development Company have at least set up a helpline number, for those traumatised by the sight of the maimed power station scarring the skyline, perhaps during their daily commute.

Our short video comments on the discrepancy between the developer’s claim that the chimneys are rapidly disintegrating, and their actions in allowing public events to take place on site, directly below the “structurally failed” chimneys. It also includes the helpline number, in case you feel personally disturbed by the destruction of Battersea Power Station.

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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