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’.

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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.

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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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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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Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon

We are pleased to announce the launch of the film Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon.

Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon from Spectacle Media on Vimeo.

Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon tells the story of Battersea Power Station from its prominence as a site of industrial power through the years of dereliction, speculation and planning blight to the replacement of the chimneys under the current scheme – a key example of developer-led preservation.

Filmed over 15 years, Spectacle’s new documentary follows the grassroots campaigns of Battersea Power Station Community Group to preserve the building for the public good. It takes us straight to the heart of the current conservation debate about whether – and how – historic buildings should be preserved, governed, modified or replaced, and ‘who’ they belong to.

Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon is unique in raising awareness to the plight of historic building preservation in an age of aggressive ‘big business’ redevelopment and gives voice to the local communities, rarely consulted and often overlooked.

The project was made possible by World Monuments Fund through support from American Express.

The film is available for free private viewing for individuals. Institutions and libraries can buy or rent the film on Vimeo on Demand.

It is also possible to purchase a DVD on our web page.

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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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Battersea Power Station -masters of spin

The new owners of Battersea Power Station may not know much about property development, but they do have excellent PR. The hugely successful Open House London day attracted tens of thousands of visitors who queued for hours to catch a brief glimpse of this much loved building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, in PR terms, it was a bit of an own goal. As only a few days later, the World Monuments Fund listed Battersea Power Station as an endangered world heritage site. See our blog on this.

This very significant listing was hardly commented on in the media. Despite its big PR it was’nt even mentioned in the very slick newsletter of the owners. The inclusion was only visible in some mainstream media:

”Battersea Power Station ‘at risk’ says the heading of an article in the Times. And according to the the Express:

”The Grade II listed London landmark is among 67 heritage

sites that are at risk from natural, economic, social and political forces according to The World Monuments Fund (WMF). The decommissioned coal-fired power station was joined on the list by the beautiful Italian city of Venice and the little known Hong Kong village of Pokfulam.”

The Local Guardian on the inclusion:

”WMF have said they aim to keep a spotlight on the current redevelopment plans for the station, particularly focusing on the re-building of it’s four chimneys.”

Noticeably, they claim it to be one of the best-loved landmarks of the capital.

The Evening standard did not mention this embarassing listing either. Since they recently made Battersea Power Station a front cover image as part of their association with “The Power 1000 – London’s most Influential People” critical reporting of Battersea Power Station from the Standard, which was always weak, has been significantly lacking.

See our full article about the owners’ pro – active approach to media management.

Interestingly, the owners were unable to provide visitors with updated information about the new phasing of the demolishing of the chimneys. This was left to a small group of local volunteers of the Battersea Power Station Community Group.

Watch our video about the demonstration against these plans during London open house.

The owners have also not mentioned their plans to make a bio fuel power station. If you think bio fuels sounds good, look at this chart. And then there’s the PR problem with main partner Sime Darby’s significant role in deforestation and the extinction of the Orang u Tang.

Despite these obstacles, they are still winning the PR – war as many people believe they are going to start to renovate the Power Station “at last”. However, phase 1 is only building ugly greedy soulless flats for investors that will block most of the views. And phase 2 involves demolishing the chimneys and, they claim, replacing them with replicas.

The current agreement is that they have permission to take down one, and that is including the art deco brickwork on the top. They will rebuild the first one to 25 meters, which is about halfway. When they have reached that point, they can take the other three chimneys down and then they will continue rebuilding the first.
So it’s essentially one plus three. Now at some point down that route, if there’s a default, the developer either refuses, or claim they ‘cannot put them back up’ or they run out of money, the chimneys, like the roof, will not be put back. The cost of putting back three and a half chimneys is massive- far more than the “bond” being asked.

BPSsavethechimneys

They are also not keen to draw attention to their recent request to dismantle the two listed cranes that are disgracefully being allowed to rust away, in order to provide a jetty for taking underground extension tunnel soil out via the river. They have a very long water front it is typical that they should insist it can only work by demolishing the cranes.

To us and any one interested, except English Heritage and Wandsworth council who collude in the hidden master plan, the owners are pursuing a policy of demolition by stealth.

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Letter to Architects Journal on Battersea Power Station phase 3

Keith Garner‘s ( architect and member of the Battersea Power Station Community Group) non-edited letter to the Architects’ Journal.  A critical look at Foster and Gehry, the chosen designers for phase 3 of the Battersea Power Station:

                       BPS_NewPlan_1

”Your report about the appointment of Foster and Gehry to the Battersea Power Station project hits the nail on the head.  (AJ web site 23rd October.)   New buildings on the Battersea Power Station site would certainly be highly visible “… from passing commuter trains”.  The one thing you won’t see of course will be Battersea Power Station itself,  which would be  obscured by thousands of new flats in blocks up to 18 storeys high, to be built as part of the Viñoly master plan.

This would be a very great shame given the evident pleasure that commuters and visitors to London derive from  seeing  Battersea Power Station from the train:  certainly  to judge by the number of people who take photographs as they go by and then post them on  Twitter and Instagram.

The truth is that the Viñoly master plan is fatally flawed.  This is because the quantum of development it foresees will destroy Battersea Power Station’s significance as an urban landmark.   It really doesn’t matter how distinguished the architects are who design individual buildings. No good will happen at Battersea until the master plan itself is ditched.

Indeed, rather than allowing new commercial buildings to proceed before Battersea Power Station  is repaired,  nothing should happen on the site until the future of the Grade II* listed building is itself secured.  In that regard, Foster & Gehry would be better employed working alongside Wilkinson Eyre on Battersea Power Station itself, rather than in designing new buildings adjacent.

Part of the reason why the current scheme for Battersea Power Station is so wildly off beam is that its underlying premise is to fund the repairs to the listed building from the proceeds of surrounding commercial development.  But if the resulting over-scaled buildings destroy the significance of Battersea Power Station as a urban landmark – as they surely will – then what’s the point?

It would be far better to transfer ownership of Battersea Power Station to a public interest trust and to repair the building with funds from the Lottery.   Rob Tincknell should agree to this: it relieves the consortium of the responsibility of looking after the listed building – something they are plainly not interested in – and lets them get on with the job of making a return for their investors.

The consortium would develop the surrounding site (in a manner that respects the monumentality of the listed building and preserves key views e.g. from the railway viaduct) and would have a lease from the trust for use of the unlisted parts of Battersea Power Station itself, i.e. most of it.   As a quid pro quo for the use of Lottery money, the public would have free access to the listed interiors which could be used for any number of educationally or culturally uplifting pursuits.

This seems like the basis of an equitable settlement to me. What is needed is an organisation to take it forward.  For too long, English Heritage has stood on the sidelines whilst the situation at Battersea Power Station has descended in to black farce.   As the government’s advisor on the historic environment, it should be their responsibility to rescue the building from the fate that currently awaits it and to pursue a civilised alternative based on trust ownership.

Incidentally, the AJ hasn’t – as far as I am aware – reported the news that the World Monuments Fund had just added Battersea Power Station to its list of world heritage in danger for 2014.  This is the second time Battersea Power Station has been added to the list – the first was in 2004 – and reflects the World Monuments Fund’s ongoing concerns about the situation at Battersea and the motivations of the current owners.”

BPS_NewPlan_3

See Merlin Fulcher’s original article that provoked Keith’s comments.

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