Why spend a fortune restoring an icon just to hide it behind a wall of flats, asks Thomas Lane
Earlier this week the repainting of Battersea Power Station’s iconic chimneys finished, marking the completion of the epic task of rebuilding them to match the originals.
The techniques used to build the original chimneys were faithfully re-created, notably the 25,000 wheelbarrows of concrete poured into wooden and steel shuttering to give the chimneys that subtly rippled look.
The original ivory colour was carefully matched with each chimney requiring 375 litres of paint.
This specialised work doesn’t come cheap – rebuilding the chimneys has cost £48m, with the overall restoration expected to exceed £1.15bn.
It’s bitterly ironic that the most popular Carbuncle Cup nomination with BD readers was the Simpson Haugh-designed Circus West. This is a huge glass cranked block on the west side of the station, which is longer than the Shard laid on its side and 17 storeys high. The problem with this building is it manages to make the largest brick building in Europe look small. It obliterates views of the power station from the west and once its twin on the east side completes the only clear view of the power station will be from the opposite bank of the Thames.
This building encapsulates the multiple ills that add up to a place on the Carbuncle Cup shortlist and these are not all the fault of architects.
The first is overdevelopment – given the cost, time and effort that has gone into restoring Battersea, why wasn’t the building lower and stepped up from the river towards the rear of the power station? The second is planning – why didn’t the planners intervene and kick the design back to the developer? The third is design – the building competes with the power station and is too busy-looking, with cranked and overlapping elements and gaps in the facade. This is presumably an attempt to break up the vast bulk of the thing – if it had been smaller these visual tricks wouldn’t have been needed. It’s not as if Simpson Haugh can’t do simple, elegant all-glass buildings – when given the opportunity.
It is always challenging to get projects to stack up financially and retain appropriateness for context while looking good. But our six shortlisted projects fall a long way short of the mark.