A monument to folly, vanity and poor planning

By Stephen Bayley
Click to follow

Battersea Power Station is a looming reprimand: the huge building's oppressive presence teases folly and vanity out of all who go near it.

Battersea Power Station is a looming reprimand: the huge building's oppressive presence teases folly and vanity out of all who go near it.

When it went off-line in 1983, the old Central Electricity Generating Board was left with an embarrassing monument and no very intelligent plans for one of the finest large sites in London.

We briefly considered it for the original Design Museum, but urgent repointing alone of the biggest bricks and mortar building in the world would have exhausted our entire budget. Then, one of Margaret Thatcher's millionaires stepped in. There are editions of the A-Z that say "Site Opening 1990", but after some half-heartedvandalism and some over-ambitious planning, Battersea was left a ruin: ravished on the way to the altar and then abandoned.

Romantics would like it left that way, a beautifully decaying monument to a lost age in what should become an extension of Battersea Park, but since that requires bravery and vision it is not going to happen. Instead, to add to its Dogs' Home, Battersea is going to get a dog's dinner of a development.

That looming presence, The Curse of Battersea, seems to have softened the brain of an otherwise sensible architect in Nick Grimshaw. Local politicians like the sound of "hotel" and "multiplex", although London would perhaps be better served if Grimshaw designed something new rather than wrap a complex brief around a half-demolished and decommissioned power station.

The leisure centre prospect excited indignant harumphing from Terence Conran who wants another sort of Design Museum there. You can't, in my view, have too much design, although it is odd that Conran cites as his allies in this contrarian campaign Richard Rogers and Christopher Frayling, each of whom must bear some responsibility for the intellectual atrocity of the Dome. It's a fine thought, but a naive one.

The South Bank is certainly the most exciting part of London. Battersea does not need to ape Tate Modern. The area has traditions in popular entertainment and the power station probably should be at the centre of a mixed development: much better something confident than careless, depressing neglect, although let's not discount the possibility that A-Zs saying "Site Opening 2004" will become collectors' items too.

Stephen Bayley built the Design Museum, which opened in 1989.

Comments