It took 39 years, many stabs at regeneration – including a theme park and Chelsea FC ground – and a serious slice of foreign dollar. But Battersea Power Station has finally (re)opened.
Amid a flurry of tickers and an impromptu search at Donald Trump’s home, London Mayor Sadiq Khan oversaw the pulling of a lever, heralding a moment that had cost a consortium of Malaysian developers £9billion to become reality.
In recent years the Battersea site has opened in a trickle, with flashy Frank Gehry apartments, a brewery, a new tautological tube station et albut the silver lining was always going to be the unpacking of the refurbished power station itself – a building every Londoner knows, but almost none have been inside.
So how is it inside?
In a word: breathtaking. Giles Gilbert Scott’s industrial masterpiece is an architectural symphony in two movements; Turbine Hall A opened in 1933, Turbine Hall B following 20 years later. It is only upon stepping inside that you feel their immense stature and appreciate the literal power this building once was.
Turbine Hall B is covered with a roof, lit up with various neon lights and storefronts – the three-way love of Tate Modern, Westfield and Doha Airport. Turbine Hall A is the airier and more dashing of the two, with large industrial windows at either end, an arched skylight running through the middle, and portico lashings from which to drink in the view.
While the mercantile metamorphosis of the turbine halls admittedly silences the aesthetic (imagine if they had turned it into another Musée d’Orsay instead), you can’t deny the majesty of what is one of the most divine art deco/modernist architecture in London. to offer.
So far we’ve had to make do with views of these satisfyingly arranged Pink Floyd/six million brick chimneys – but suddenly you can get the full picture of Gilbert Scott’s palatial-industrial vision, not to mention a tantalizing glimpse of Control Room A, looking at you through a strip of glass.
It’s like unlocking a new level on the game that is London.
While Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall is packed with thought-provoking fixtures, both BPSs vibrate with high-end commercialism. Suddenly, here is perhaps the most lavish shopping center in the world, and also one of the most exorbitant: in a montage of excess worthy of a mocking, the windows glitter with Cartier, Calvin Klein, Rolex , Hugo Boss… You can purr from here in a new Bentley for Chrissake – that wasn’t an option at the Whitgift Center in Croydon last time we checked.
There are however things for us hoi polloi to see and do. As well as a handful of less splashy outlets, including a Pret and a Starbucks (because: capitalism), BPS is dotted with old bits of machinery, labeled with interesting, if jargon-like plaques.
A small display on the regeneration of the power station is really interesting and includes some glaring scale models of what the development might have looked like, including a tall, lunkish tower jutting right out of the middle of the historic power station, which must’ was the work of a bored architect pissing on a Friday afternoon.
There’s also an elongated bookstore, surrounded by delightfully rough bits of concrete, which will look pretty good once they’ve stocked it with copies of Londonist Mapped.
And certainly on opening day, the activities that we were most passionate about were not on the table; namely the large glass elevator that goes up inside one of the chimneys (we can now confirm the price of a ticket: £15.90) and that 1950s-style control room bar where you have like drinking a martini on the set of Thunderbirds. We will be back for those, mark our words.
If nothing else, come to Battersea Power Station for the hair-raising thrill of finally being inside this skyline icon: many curious Londoners will have explored the interior regions of The Shard , St Paul’s, maybe even the BT Tower – but BPS has been so off limits even our intrepid editor Matt Brown hadn’t set foot there until now.
It’s a weird and wonderful feeling to be here, and you should put aside all skepticism to visit this stunningly beautiful monster whenever you get the chance. Even if you’re not looking for a Bentley right now.
All images by [email protected]/Will Noble/Londonist