The architects of whimsy at Atelier Zündel Cristea have released what is the latest in a long line of proposals to redevelop Battersea Power Station as a museum of architecture. Oh yes, and it's one with a roller coaster. Gizmag takes a moment to consider Battersea Power Station's heritage, and ponder a future befitting the iconic structure.
Battersea Power Station has been a monument to industry ever since the coal-fired steam turbines at Battersea A began turning in the 1930s. It was not until 1953, when the adjoining Battersea B Power Station was completed, that the iconic four concrete chimneys at each corner were in place, but by then the building had already entered Britain's national consciousness. According to the Battersea Power Station Community Group, the building was voted the second favorite among celebrities polled by the Architects Journal in 1939.
I was very aware of Battersea Power Station long before I ever saw its mucky bricks in person. Its innumerable appearances in popular culture have contributed to the vague sense either that it has been following me or I have been following it through my subconscious as I've grown up.
One of the earliest impressions was made by Pink Floyd with the cover of the 1977 concept album, Animals, which depicts a balloon-pig floating above the power station. I can't claim to have been a fan in my early years (or since, really), but a homage to that album cover appeared in the 1984 ZX Spectrum game, Jet Set Willy, which I spent a significant proportion of my early childhood transfixed by. The level Emergency Power Generator has a side-on view of a miniature Battersea Power Station (built inside Willy's mansion), complete with a flying pig above.
Appearances in things like Doctor Who and The Quatermass Xperiment reinforced its fond place in my consciousness; a fondness that, I hazard a guess, is by no means unusual in Britain. It accounts for probably ten percent of the reason why I am so fond of brick as a building material, and 100 percent of the reason why Victoria is my favorite London train station to arrive at and depart from.
Now derelict, Battersea Power Station is a monument in a more literal sense, serving no practical use since Battersea B ceased to generate electricity in 1983. Since that time, plans to redevelop the station have come and gone. The latest proposal, from Atelier Zündel Cristea, reinvents the power station as the "Battersea Museum of Architecture," a response to an ArchTriumph competition to design precisely that. However, this would be an unusual museum, surrounded by an enormous roller coaster. Renderings of the plan show the roller coaster both surrounding and entering the power station, with elevated walkways built into the coaster's rises.
In some respects, this proposal is moot. A consortium led by Malaysian property developer S P Setia is in the process of converting the power station into a mixture of apartments and town houses. On January 14 the consortium announced that about 450 of the initial 650 properties to be developed during Phase One were reserved within a week of going on sale on January 9.
Plans to redevelop the power station have faltered in the past. A proposal to turn it into a theme park beat out a number of other proposals in a competition held in 1983. The ill-fated (and arguably ill-judged) endeavor ran out of steam and, more crucially, money, by 1989, though this was after work had begun, leaving structural steel exposed to the elements and accounting for its current state of dereliction. If Battersea is to endure, leaving it alone is out of the question.
Atelier Zündel Cristea's proposal is true to form. It's fun, as was its idea for a trampoline bridge on the Seine. The company says it envisages "a new Cathedral to Architecture," and the words roller coaster do not appear in the firm's proposal, describing it instead as "the foreign element of a rail." Fun is a word that does appear, and rather a lot, the implication apparently that fun is an essential element in attracting people to museums in the first place.
The idea of Battersea Power Station rising again from the industrial ashes as a cultural center of gravity is a seductive one, but that trick has already been pulled by the Tate Modern, also a brick-clad former power station, cited in the proposal. Turning Battersea Power Station into flats may seem less imaginative, but it's surely fitting that this retired workhorse should once again be useful to London.
It's unfair, perhaps, to pour too much scrutiny on what amounts to a fun idea, but one wonders whether the grindings, clatterings and yelps of roller coasters are conducive to the contemplation of architectural exhibits ("scream if you want to visit the postconstructivist wing"). I'd like to leave you with an image of children draping Christmas lights on their dozing grandfather. To them he has always been an old man. One day, maybe, he'll tell them his stories. Relevant? I have no idea. But if we're going to go with whimsy, a flying pig is obligatory.