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Power House

London, UK

London landmark Battersea Power Station has been reborn as a mixed-use development overseen by architects Wilkinson Eyre, with smart new apartments designed by Michaelis Boyd

Image: John Sturrock

Arriving at London’s Battersea Power station at sunrise before a tour of the redeveloped building – which reopens in its entirety in late summer – I found myself gazing as its awe-inspiring scale. Apparently, St Paul’s Cathedral could fit inside its former, main boilerhouse.

Despite its industrial roots, the building has a romantic air: that morning, the sun had turned its brick façade a golden-syrup hue, while its fluted, reinforced concrete chimneys – which for a moment recalled classical columns – glowed a buttermilk shade.

This iconic London landmark, south of the Thames, enjoys a mythic status yet has had a chequered past. Pink Floyd immortalised it on the cover of its 1977 album, Animals, an inflatable pig hovering surreally above it. In 1927, when the London Power Company first proposed to build a power station, Chelsea residents protested that it would be an eyesore and belch out pollution. To help allay their fears, distinguished architect Giles Gilbert Scott was hired to design it and a commitment was made to ensure emissions would be ‘clean and smokeless’.

The power station was built in two stages – A Station was completed in 1935 and B Station came into service in 1944, which were amalgamated. The first is more Art Deco in style, boasting decorative tilework, marble and parquet flooring, the latter more utilitarian.

Fully decommissioned in 1983, this abandoned behemoth almost went to ruin. After several abortive attempts to resurrect it, the 42-acre site was acquired by a Malaysian consortium in 2012. Restoration of the building began in 2014. Thanks to the creation of a nearby tube station on the Northern Line in 2021, the site is now more accessible.

This mixed-use redevelopment, overseen by architects Wilkinson Eyre, houses shops, restaurants and office spaces (some leased by Apple) in the old turbine halls and boilerhouse.

Adjacent to the old power station are several mixed-use schemes, including Circus West Village and buildings designed by Frank Gehry and Foster + Partners located on a new “high street” called Electric Boulevard.

The redeveloped power station retains many original features and references the original building’s heritage. Station A and Station B – renamed Switch House West and Switch House East respectively – have been converted into 253 apartments designed by architects Michaelis Boyd. All apartments feature floor-to-ceiling windows drawing in plenty of daylight.

Three new, glass-fronted floors house duplexes with access to two private courtyards and a roof garden.

“For the apartments, we created two palettes inspired by the original power station,” says Tim Boyd of Michaelis Boyd. “One references the earlier, decorative 1930s part and includes dark wood herringbone flooring and brass and copper accents. The other nods to the later power station’s more stripped-down style and includes white lacquered kitchen units and concrete worktops.” The apartments, with their rose-pink, exposed brick walls and Crittall windows, have a loft-style feel which Boyd sums up as “refined industrial”.

In parts the redevelopment is a steampunkers’ paradise. A gigantic girder has been repurposed as a concierge desk and original switchgear (structures that contained switches, fuses and circuit-breakers) has been given a new lease of life as eccentric sculptures in landscaping co-created by LDA Design and Andy Sturgeon.

Moreover, the power station’s vast, reconfigured turbine halls and boilerhouse have a cinematic quality. Wander through them and their unfolding vistas reveal a Piranesian web of mezzanines and suspended walkways in dark steel and shafts of light streaming in through skylights and windows. Here, I’m told, even the escalators won’t be soullessly shiny but will have a suitably matt, old-world finish.