Maybe it will be third time lucky for that vast unlovely
white elephant, Battersea power station, and its surrounding 30-something acre
The place is up for sale again, this through an
international bidding auction. Bids of
up to £500 million are expected, at least according to the agent, Knight Frank,
perhaps more in hope than expectation.
Whoever buys the site will be obliged to keep the generating
plant itself, complete with the four soaring smokestacks that have long
dominated the south London
skyline. For reasons best explained by
English Heritage, or the other institutions involved in deciding such matters,
the building is what the British call ‘listed’.
That doesn’t mean it’s leaning at a precarious angle but that it has been
given a preservation order as a structure of aesthetic or historical interest.
My question is, why?
I can’t for the life of me fathom why so many
Londoners are, apparently, sentimental about something that was clearly
designed (by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott) to be functional rather than beautiful,
and which is no more than typical of its kind. A similar building, a couple of miles down
river, was converted to Tate Modern, an art gallery. That surely serves adequately as a reminder
of its time, if such a reminder were needed.
Knight Frank lauds the 1930s generating plant as a London icon, comparable to Paris’s
and New York’s Empire State
Building. Well, I suppose they do have to sell the
bloody thing. To me, it is nothing but a
vast obtrusive eyesore that ought to be demolished. It’s apparently ready to fall down of its own
accord, anyway, absent a great deal of reconstructive surgery.
Some Russian, Indian or middle-eastern oligarch will
probably buy the place. The site does offer
plenty of scope for residential, office and retail development, and if that
happens there are plans to extend the London Underground to serve it.
There’s nothing wrong with that plan, but the site
would be even more valuable, and surely more attractive, without that giant
upturned sideboard in the middle.