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Friday18 August 2017

Carbuncle Cup: Circus West, Battersea Power Station, London by Simpson Haugh

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The first completed phase of the controversial project obscures the very thing it was supposed to preserve

Circus West, the first phase of the long-awaited but now greatly resented Battersea Power Station development, consists of two long, thin buildings.

One is a rather nice, modest, gold-copper-clad block of flats designed by dRMM.

Looming above and stretching either side of it, is the other: an enormous pile of ice cubes designed by Simpson Haugh & Partners.

It’s 90,000sq m, 17 storeys high and longer than the Shard laid on its side. And it pulls off the extraordinary feat of making the biggest brick building in the whole of Europe look small.

How Wandsworth council ever allowed it to be built so close to the beloved grade II*-listed power station beggars belief.

Even the architect admits it is “a massive building”. With its cranked plan, it literally wraps its arms around our national treasure like a drunk trying to hug your granny. Or a rugby player in a tutu photobombing a funeral.

To be fair, Scott Brownrigg’s hideous purple Chelsea Bridge Wharf flats had already done terrible damage to the power station’s setting.

Perhaps Wandsworth’s planning committee gave too much credence to the “artist’s impression” CGIs which bear little resemblance to the finished building.

“Finished” is a moot phrase since the façade cleverly manages to look incomplete when viewed face-on. The randomly spaced inset balconies give the impression that some of the glass panes have fallen off or are yet to be fitted, further distracting from the power station.

This is no mistake. The architect’s own website says: “To make the building appear more dynamic and enjoyable to the eye apartments were gathered into rectangular blocks and arranged as articulated horizontal glass ribbons, gently overlaid and rippling towards the river.

“By day, the double-skin glass façade is alive with the reflections of the sun, sky, river, trees and the power station. Its faceted panels, fissures and overhangs create a play of light, shadow, geometry and void that offers constantly changing vignettes from every aspect around the building.

“By night, the subtle layering of the façade dissolves and each unit, each room, each apartment, is defined within the building’s grid as lights switch on and off against the night sky.”

Well thanks, but surely you knew your job was not to compete with the power station but to bow respectfully away from it.

This scale of overdevelopment has been forced on the power station because of some bad deals made by a series of owners needing to recoup massive investments.

Which means we can look forward to Circus West’s throttling effect being completed when its near mirror image, Circus East, is built in a few years’ time.

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Readers' comments (46)

  • Yes, it's a massive building, but you cannot blame Simpson Haugh for that - blame Rafael Vinoly, designer of a turd or 50! It was his masterplan that has set the permitted building limits of deviation for the whole masterplan, SHP were not able to reduce the building in height, length or girth even if they wanted to.

    It's therefore a little unfair, especially as it's not actually finished.

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  • How else would you pay for the renovation of the power station? It was either this putting them into a series of Shard-like towers.

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  • Jon - the building is finished and people have moved in.

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  • Why bother removating the power station if you can no longer see it. Yes, it was a heinous masterplan, executed masterfully. Whether the fault lies with the mayor, the local authority, the masterplanner, or the architect, this is a truly worthy winner.

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  • renovating - I can spell, I just can't type

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  • @ zu deb - your original word was spot on. So much of the original building has been removed and is now being 'recreated', you have stumbled upon the perfect portmanteau.

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  • I am 100% in support of this as carbuncle of the year, maybe more! Living beside this and passing a few times a week, I am amazed what you can do beside one of the most important historical buildings along the Thames, without negatively affecting the setting of the building! Another example of how big business and big developers get away with absolutely destroying our built and urban environment, while the small builder, developer & homeowner gets refusals for proposals simply because they aren't a xerox copy of the host building or surrounds no matter how well designed or executed.

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  • Jon - I didn't think it was finished, either.

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  • Looks like a cracking year for the Carbuncle cup.

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  • A great case of gross over development - it's disgusting!

    There has been an obvious failure on the part of the previous moron mayor (hardly surprising), the local authority and the master planners (Viñoly) who signed this off, thinking this was necessary or appropriate.

    In fact, I loathe this “architect” and his knack for leaving architectural effluence all over this fine city.

    I must admit if I saw him in the street, it would take considerable self-control not to give the man a sharp slap across his dozy face for 20 Fenchurch Street and now defiling one of my favourite buildings in this way.

    Architecture is supposed to move people, but I don’t think retching like a cat bringing up a fur ball is what was meant - perhaps someone should point this out to Raffy?

    As for the architecture such that it is, a series of floor plates encased in a glass box - wow!

    How imaginative is that is?

    You would think it might at least show a little consideration to context with Gilbert Scots masterpiece with some use of brickwork perhaps - but they couldn't even be bothered with that.

    Just mind numbing, witless glass screening – pathetic.

    A fine illustration of everything wrong with London’s increasingly tacky Dubai by the Thames “aspiration” - the utterly fucked up state of housing in this city and all over the UK, presided over by useless politicians (too busy wringing their hands in public to do anything meaningful about it) and facilitated by clueless architects like Viñoly dumping their crap all over London like an incontinent seagull.

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