Battersea Power Station has a New Lease of Life and It’s Electrifying
[UPDATE: Lift 109 is now open. Otel Art is due to open on December 12th 2022.]
Battersea Power Station, the distinctive brick building with four white chimneys on the banks of the River Thames in south west London, has lain empty for nearly four decades. But now the vast nine acre property (St Paul’s Cathedral could fit inside its Boiler Room alone) is opening to the public for the first time having been transformed into a retail and leisure destination.
Over 100 shops, restaurants, bars and cafes will be housed in the former power station as well as a cinema, apartments and offices – Apple are moving in in January. Sixty outlets will open on October 14th, a second raft will follow before Christmas and the rest in time for Easter 2023.
From 1933 to 1983, water from the Thames was heated by coal in the furnaces at Battersea Power Station which in turn supplied electricity to swathes of London. Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament were among them – they were code named in the control room as Carnaby Street Two and Three. But when the station was decommissioned because of concerns over air quality it remained redundant save for the odd fashion show and several film shoots.
Various owners (including a Hong Kong developer) came and went as did ideas, from a theme park to a stadium for Chelsea Football Club. For years the station looked like it was destined to stay idle. Then in 2012 a consortium of Malaysian investors – Sime Darby Property, Setia, The Employees Provident Fund and Permodalan Nasional Berhad – bought the site.
Uncoincidentally visitors entering through the main South side entrance will do so via Malaysia Square – a newly constructed public piazza with a striking terraced design in homage to Malaysian landscapes. The South entrance is nearest the swish new tube station on the Northern Line. There’s also a North entrance next to the river and where once the coal arrived on the jetty, accessible by water bus or via the bridge from Chelsea.
As I walk through the former turbine halls a week before opening as fit outs are being finalised I see signage for a mix of recognisable brands from high street to high end, spanning fashion, beauty, sportswear and watches. Pop ups by independent retailers will also be a regular factor.
Although it looks like a single building, the Power Station was originally built in two parts: the first, Turbine Hall A, is ornately art deco while in contrast Turbine Hall B which was built in the 1950s is strikingly stark. The outlets are not grouped in themes as each was left to choose what part of the site they wanted to be in.
Architects WilkinsonEyre who have offices in London, Hong Kong and Sydney, have retained the Power Station’s sense of scale as well as the industrial feel of the building. The north and south entrance atriums have been left open up to the roof.
There’s polished concrete floor and exposed brick walls; original gantries have been left in place and steel walkway bridges added. Even the mechanisms of the newly installed lifts and escalators are deliberately on display. Black bricks on the floor of both halls outline the positions of the original turbines while salvaged machinery placed in the North atrium looks like an art installation.
Among the first tranche of openings is a boutique cinema with comfy armchairs and individual tables for your glass of wine or cup of coffee. And what was formerly Control Room B has been turned into a 1950s style bar, run by the popular immersive hospitality group, Inception. Overlooking the turbine hall, the bar retains the original stainless steel control panels arranged in an arc reminiscent of a Fifties Sci Fi film and staff will be dressed in white boiler suits for that added mad scientist feel.
While a number of eateries will open in October, a 24,000 sq ft food hall will follow early next year run by one of London’s most impressive restaurateurs, JKS. Arcade Food Hall will go into the former Boiler Room and judging by the success of the group’s existing ventures, which cover the cuisines of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the US, it will be worth the wait.
Set to be an attraction in its own right is Lift 109, located in one of the four chimneys (they have all been painstakingly recreated as the originals could not be saved). A circular glass elevator will ascend 109 metres, protruding above the smokestack, for a panoramic view of London.
A luxury lifestyle hotel overlooking the Power Station and Malaysia Square is due to open on November 15th. Art’otel will include a roof garden, an infinity pool and a top floor restaurant with food by Henrique Sá Pessoa who has a two Michelin starred place in Portugal. As the name suggests artworks will feature throughout the hotel, inspired by the heritage of Battersea Power Station.