08 Battersea Power Station Regeneration
For bringing new life to a once-iconic but long-abandoned power station
A veritable fixture on London’s skyline, Battersea Power Station boasts a rich history. The massive coal-fired plant on the banks of the River Thames produced one-fifth of the U.K. capital’s electricity in its heyday, powering the likes of Buckingham Palace. And during World War II, the white plumes of vapor emanating from the structure’s chimneys aided navigation for Royal Air Force pilots and Germany’s Luftwaffe—which helped it avoid extensive bombing. The building even makes an appearance on Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover, an inflatable pig hovering between two of the chimneys. (Further cementing its place in history: The balloon broke loose during the photo shoot, wreaking havoc across the city.) Yet like any modern metropolis, London changed—as did its needs. And after Battersea was fully decommissioned in 1983, the iconic brick structure fell into disrepair.
Fast forward 40 or so years and Battersea is back. The power station stands at the center of a £9 billion mixed-use development: an eight-phase megaproject that aims to transform a 42-acre (17-hectare) site into a dynamic community destination expected to draw 40 million visits annually once fully built out in 2030. The venture is led by Battersea Power Station Development Co., working with Malaysian site owners PNB, Sime Darby Property, S P Setia and the Employees Provident Fund to deliver an eclectic collection of shops, housing, offices, tourist attractions and 19 acres (7.7 hectares) of public space.
Five years after phase 1, Circus West Village, was completed, work on phase 2—the Power Station—is nearly wrapped. Highlights include more than 100 retail and dining destinations, an 1,719 square-meter (18,500 square-foot) food hall, an events venue, a cinema, housing and 116,129 square meters (1.25 million square feet) of office space, including Apple’s new London campus.
Here's a look at what it took to reimagine some of those spaces:
An Uplifting Experience
Acknowledging the station’s existing design was a driving principle for lead architects WilkinsonEyre. Case in point: A “chimney lift experience” in which 30 people at a time can ride a glass elevator through the interior of the power station’s northwest chimney. At the top of the 109-meter (358-feet) climb, visitors can take in 360-degree views of London’s skyline.
Integrating the bespoke circular glass elevator into the chimney’s gently tapering shaft was design challenge enough. But to fulfill its vision of creating a seamless, transparent transition from inside to outdoors, the team also had to find a way to avoid conventional suspension cabling. Instead, it integrated the propulsion mechanics underneath the elevator car. The efforts are well worth it, says WilkinsonEyre director Sebastien Ricard. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole scheme and a brilliant way to bring everyone up close and intimate with the world’s most famous chimneys.”
Tribute to the Turbines
When the power station was operational, massive turbines revolved day and night, supplying energy to much of London. The architects wanted to capture the same sense of scale and visual drama—minus the actual whirling turbines. So they opted to keep the turbine halls largely open and unobstructed, reimagining the perimeters as a three-level shopping mall. The decorative silhouette of a turbine on the floor is a playful wink to the building’s past.
Raising the Bar
Rather than mask the site’s past, developers leaned into it—hard. Making its debut in October, Control Room B was reincarnated into a bar, with “control room engineers” serving up cocktails surrounded by the site’s switchgear racks and auxiliary equipment. The glazed ceramic tile walls, original stainless steel control panels and overall brutalist design were meant to “make the perfect backdrop for ‘that’ photo opportunity,” says Battersea Power Station Development Co. CEO Simon Murphy. Translation: It’s intended to be Instagram gold.
Nostalgia Powered by Tech
Battersea’s original control room, which first opened in 1931 and was shuttered in 1975, has always held visual appeal—making guest appearances in the films The King’s Speech and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. But in restoring the space, the project team was able to “to not only demonstrate our heritage capability, but also push the boundaries of innovation and technology,” says Danny Lucas, executive chair and managing director of specialist architecture firm Lucas UK.
Requirements to restore every authentic detail of the Art Deco room were developed in close collaboration with lead architects WilkinsonEyre and preservation experts Historic England. Think: teak herringbone-patterned floors, Italian marble tiled walls, gold-painted coffered glass ceiling and black Belgian marble throughout. The team was able to nail every design detail with some tech assistance: digital color scanning to match the original paint and 3D-printed parts to replace missing knobs and levers in the switchboard banks. The meticulously refurbished Control Room A, which was unveiled in June, effectively transports visitors back in time—or at least lets them imagine they’re in a sci-fi movie.
Project plans include 253 new residential units—a mix of flats and villas—across three areas within the Power Station building. Switch House East and Switch House West flank either side of the station, while Boiler House Square sits atop the historic boiler house. Switch House West, which began welcoming residents in May 2021, was the first major segment of phase 2 to be completed.
Architecture studio Michaelis Boyd planned the layouts, fixtures and finishes to subtly reference the building’s pre-existing 1930s- and 1950s-era aesthetics. For example, the chevron-patterned floors of Switch House East are a nod to those in Control Room A. And while the larger development project is intended to act as a bustling town center for the wider local community, for those who reside here, Battersea Power Station creates “a new 15-minute live, work and play neighborhood,” with residents able to access everything they need and want—no lengthy commute required.