The awkward legacy of Battersea Power Station

We take a look at the plans for the site that never quite made it

Battersea Power Station was coal’s cruel gift to London.

Built in two stages, beginning in the 1930s and finished with its iconic four chimney design in the early 1950s, the brick beast generated power for a total of 48 years.

By the time it belched its last sooty clouds and deposited its final slugs of energy into the National Grid, the titanic structure had become a British cultural treasure.

The curse of a rich cultural heritage is that no matter how unsuitable for adaptation this defunct mountain of bricks may be, London is unable to let it go.  

Over the last 30 years one scheme after another has been put forward to re-develop the site. Many sought to preserve the celebrated silhouette of the building. Others aimed to flatten the grade II listed monument. But despite several ideas gaining approval, none came to fruition and the site has remained a ghostly industrial totem, integral to the London skyline, but remote and derelict.

Finally, in 2012, after numerous redevelopment plans fell through, the power station was put on the open market for sale through Knight Frank estate agents, and redevelopment of the site into a mixed use living, working and shopping destination is now underway.

We take a look at some of the ideas that never quite made it.

1. Theme park

Battersea Power Station Rollercoaster

Battersea Power Station Rollercoaster

Theme parks were big news in the second half of the twentieth century. Immediately after Battersea Power Station stopped functioning in 1983, the plan was to turn the site into a giant theme park. The owners of Alton Towers actually began converting the power station into a theme park in 1987, but were forced to give up when costs began to spiral (and corkscrew and loop the loop). They’d already taken the roof off though, and when they eventually gave up on the idea, the building was left in a sorry state.

2. Shopping Mall

By the 1990s, people had begun to get over their theme park obsession, and shopping was considered to be among the best ways to get your kicks on the weekend. A Hong-Kong development company called Parkview bought the 38 acre site and drew up plans for a large scale shopping mall, replete with over 50 bars and restaurants, 180 shops, nightclubs and a riverside walkway. The plans also included the development of new buildings around the site. The ideas were slammed by critics and described as both “deeply unattractive” and as resembling an “airport-lounge”. Eventually the plan was abandoned.

3. Several ideas at once

In 2006, an ambitious Irish duo named Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan bought the site and appointed Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Viñoly as the master planner. Viñoly duly went to town with a number of ideas. The plans included a 2-mile extension to the London Underground with a new Tube station at the power station; a new power station built inside the old power station fuelled by biomass and waste and utilising the existing chimneys; a shopping centre was also planned for the old turbine hall; a huge plastic eco-dome housing offices and 3,200 new homes was planned for the east side of the power station; and as if that wasn’t enough, an energy museum was also going to be squeezed in somewhere around the shopping area and the new biomass power station part.

Sadly the crazy dream remained just that. In November 2011, it was announced that the scheme had collapsed, mired in debt.

4. Urban Park

Battersea Power Station control room

Battersea Power Station control room

This short-lived proposal involved demolishing most of the power station, leaving behind the chimneys and displaying the power station’s old control units in clear pods in the park. The idea didn’t get very far despite being the product of Sir Terry Farrell’s architecture firm which had also built the nearby MI6 building at Vauxhaull.

5. Football Stadium

Battersea Power Station Chelsea stadium. Image via Twitter

Battersea Power Station Chelsea stadium. Image via Twitter

In 2008 it was widely reported that Chelsea Football Club was considering building a purpose built stadium at the site. The proposed stadium featured a retractable roof, would hold a capacity of up to 75,000 fans, and was designed by HOK Sport, who had previously designed Wembley Stadium. In 2012, bids were received from Chelsea FC, but the site was sold to Malaysian developers, scuppering Chelsea’s plans.

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