Battering Battersea Station

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Battersea Power Station, 1929-33, on Pink Floyd album cover. (London Musical History)

Owen Hatherley has denounced a large development around the historic Battersea Power Station, in London. I cannot read his piece because it is behind the paywall of The Architects’ Journal. But I do have the next best thing – its description in the vital ArchNewsNow.com, which reads:

Hatherley minces no words re: the “genuinely dystopian” and “grim” development rising around London’s Battersea Power Station that “looks increasingly like satire – devoid of planning, intelligence or character – a tangle of superfluous skyscrapers around parodies of public spaces” (ouch!).

I would like to give Hatherley the benefit of the doubt and assume that he genuinely dislikes the sort of modern architecture he criticizes here for its overabundance and seeming mockery of generally accepted practices of civic revival, and for smothering the beloved Battersea Station amid its ugly glass-and-steel towers. But he probably likes it unless he decides, for one reason or another, as he has here, not to like it. I make that assumption only because there are so few critics on either side of the pond with the sense to dislike it. One of the few trad critics in Britain, Gavin Stamp, died last December.

Hatherley’s article caught my eye because I have a collection of articles by modernist critics who who seem to feel their credibility will be undermined if they do not criticize a modernist project once in a while. Well, wake up! You do not have any credibility except with those who’ve drunk the same Kool Aid. Almost all modernist projects can be criticized in some or all of the same terms Hatherley uses in riding to the defense of the Battersea station.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who designed the once ubiquitous red Brit telephone booth – which Gavin Stamp crusaded to save – designed the Battersea’s Art Deco exterior. It was perhaps the largest brick building in the world. Scott was “consulted to appease public reaction,” according to Wikipedia – with success as it was popular from the beginning and known as the “temple to power.” It rivaled St. Paul’s in popularity, and was featured on the cover of the 1977 album “Animals” by the rock group Pink Floyd.

So naturally the modernists, who know they cannot just knock down a Grade II listed heritage structure, are building their crap around it. By hiding it they seek to avoid its unavoidable comment on the quality of their work. So sad.

***

A reader has sent me Hatherley’s article from behind the paywall. The full “This dire Battersley Power Station development is genuinely dystopian” (click on PDF below) may give rise to comments I will add below without changing anything above, unless necessary.

This dire Battersea Power Station development is genuinely dystopian _ Opinion _ Architects Journal

I would add only that the power station and the project are near the new and ridiculous U.S. embassy, which I’ll bet Hatherley has praised. Parts of the project are by Rogers Stirk Harbour. The comments below the article are interesting, including a debate over whether it is, as Hatherley says, a failed development.

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Battersea Power Station’s four stacks rise above recent development. (Architects’ Journal)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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