Open House London are to be admired for their determination to open up iconic London landscapes and hidden gems – but they certainly made a mess of things this weekend and left many people deeply unhappy. Good intentions + bad planning = a recipe for disaster and left many disheartened souls.
This weekend they made the promise to 1000s of overeager Londoners (and those from far and wide) that they would grant us free entry to a building that is close to many people’s hearts – Battersea Power Station. This four-pronged beacon of the London skyline is much dearer to London resident’s than the newly polished Gherkin or Shard, and has less pomp and grandeur than the Houses of Parliament or the Tower of London.
London landmarks are glorious and tell of a history so varied, dark, proud and momentous that you can barely turn a street corner without something of repute having happened there.Yet that is not why people love Battersea- this Art Deco behemoth is for the commonplace of London – no battles were fought there, no life altering decisions made. It is a decommissioned coal-fired power station. Construction began in 1929 and the building was finally shut down in 1983 – meaning it has been 30 years since it served its purpose.
In the years since, various proposals were made for the site, yet they all fell by the wayside and left Battersea in a beautiful state of barren disarray.
Being from London, it is hard to say whether everybody understands the appeal of the aesthetics of the building – it was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – who also designed the Tate Modern (further downriver) and the world-famous red-telephone box.
Ideas bandied about for its new use have included: a theme park, a new Chelsea football ground, and more astoundingly-overpriced London housing.
And guess what won? Who was the winner in the 30 year battle for Battersea?
Money was the winner and money from Malaysia is now about to turn this rough and ready beast of the South London skyline into designer flats.
So this was the last EVER chance to peep inside this building that we have all gazed at, glassy eyed, on our commutes to and from the city. Battersea Power Station has stared down and silently witnessed the lives and loves of ordinary Londoners for years. Never participating, solitary in its disuse, but a friendly giant accompanying the sunrise and sunset journeys of our lives. The idea of it is being turned into shiny new flats that no average person could afford hurts somewhat. It doesn’t ring true to the purpose of the building. Is it a sight that I want to stay in London to witness? Along with the desecration of Southbank skatepark? Sometimes I dare not look at what London is going to gentrify next.
Short opening hours, no queuing system and a severe lack of staff turned the place into a swarm of angry Londoners who will now never get a chance to say goodbye before our crumbling ruin is turned into a sleek new joint full of corporate eateries and floor-to-ceiling windowed apartments (I am yet to find anyone pro-the exclusive housing, so pardon me).
We, through sheer determination and sly sneaking, managed to get inside to say farewell. We had been told many times that there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY we were getting in. Yet, this to us sounded not just a challenge, but something that could not be given up on easily.
You see behind every one of the people queuing that day there was a backstory and for us it was important…one of our dearest friends (my first boyfriend) from sixth form college had always been in love with this building. Whenever going past Battersea Power Station on trips into the city when we were 16 he would always extoll its virtues – everyone still associates this iconic sight with him.
So off on our jolly teenage trips we went- for us it would be our first date, for others it would be bunking days off college, and for many of us the New Year’s Eve we all spent on December 31st 2005 in Trafalgar Square getting drunk from one can of beer – every time he would talk about it. His favourite thing was watching the sun set behind the four chimneys and so that is what I bought him for his 18th birthday – a framed photograph of Battersea with the sun shining behind in a deep orange hue.
This weekend would have been Scott’s 25th birthday. Unfortunately, he could not be with us to celebrate and to see inside his much beloved building.
In 2011 he passed away after a long and brave battle with aplastic anemia (for further information see below).
It seemed that there was no better and no more fitting tribute than to attend and see for ourselves what he would have relished seeing – and on his quarter of a century birthday no less. His presence was acutely missed and always will be missed, but standing in the cavernous turbine hall and knowing that Battersea Power Station would always be there – in London, and be part of the city we all grew up in and cherish was a comfort.
Members of the public, in the absence of supervision by the staff, were able to take away small pieces and chunks that had fallen from the once-mighty stature. One little old lady knelt beside me doing the same thing and I wondered for a moment why she wanted a piece to remember the place by. Everyone always has a story behind such a memento.
Well the piece of brick that I managed to snaffle away is going straight to Scott. We are going to decorate it and put it in on his grave on his birthday – tomorrow, September 22nd. Regrettably, we never had the chance to go with him to Battersea Power Station, but that is not going to stop us – because now we can take a piece of Battersea to him.