On 20 September London Society members gathered to learn about the Battersea Power Station development and how its story fits with that of Nine Elms and London as a whole. Owen Hatherley (A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, The Ministry of Nostalgia) and Peter Watts (Up in Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station) talked us through its history, asking how its redevelopment will change Nine Elms, and the extent to which it is indicative of the play between property, power and politics in London today. Saul Collyns reports.
Watts’ motivation to delve deeper into the story of Battersea Power Station arose from a curiosity shared by many Londoners: Why had the numerous developments announced, seemingly on a two year cycle, never materialised, and what was going wrong?
Battersea Power Station, child of architect Giles Gilbert Scott (also known for structures such as Liverpool Cathedral and Waterloo Bridge), fully opened in 1935. According to Watts, its construction was more controversial than the Garden Bridge, with opponents including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the King. Throughout the 1960s it was notoriously known as a ‘polluting monster’, impregnating the surrounding area with sulphur smoke, the smell of which deterred locals from adjacent Battersea Park. Nevertheless, by the 1970s the power station had gained popularity, becoming the face of a ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ London, even appearing on the front cover of Pink Floyd’s album Animals.