polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Deconstructing the Industrial Age

by Andrew Wade

London's decommissioned power stations on the South Bank of the Thames have undergone a forced and negotiated evolution to maintain their relevance in the modern city fabric.  As iconic industrial monuments, both Bankside Power Station and Battersea Power Station hold considerable meaning in the collective memory of Londoners,  making the redevelopment of these sites a performance of contestation and compromise.  While Bankside has already set the tone for adaptive reuse by reopening as Tate Modern in 2000, the new masterplan for Battersea has just gained planning consent.  After several public consultations, architect Rafael Viñoly's glass tower has been removed, and a new vision for the site has been revealed by Treasury Holdings, a major shareholder in developer Real Estate Opportunities.

As a mid-20th century engine room of the city, Battersea Power Station and its future redevelopment carry with them an implied statement of intent not only on energy production and consumption but also on the prioritisation of interests between the developer, community organisations, and the city government.  The beautiful ageing materiality of the building will compete with the need for modernisation and adaptation in the re-creation of meaning through collective memory.  As the site begins its physical transformation in 2012, will it turn into an economically exclusive playground or a vital and unique community with a clear historical thread?  What will be the social outcomes of the £5.5 billion investment in the site's redevelopment?  Furthermore, how will value creation be measured and therefore drive design decision-making?

Credits: Image of Battersea 'A' Station under construction from Wikipedia CommonsImage of current interior of Battersea Power Station from Wikipedia Commons. Video of '1000 Individual Chairs' from Zakary Kinnaird. Video of 'Design the Vision' from The Bespoke Film Company.