The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar,
That spoiled your summer fields and fruitful vines,
Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough
In your embowelled bosoms—this foul swine
Is now even in the center of this isle
Richmond advances on Richard’s forces and reports the damage done, the boar King Richard III’s heraldic emblem. These lines were invoked after the election of our previous president.
In the 1995 movie version of Shakespeare’s play, the final battle is fought at the remains of Battersea Power Station, London. The movie, smart, engaging, rather flip, is set in thrityish fascist times, with anachronisms, but in manner and manners feels contemporary to our times—and is too familiar. As I write this, Ukraine battles Putin’s forces laying waste to its land.
At home, just over a year ago, this building was the setting for another siege.
Richard III is a complicated play of deceit, intrigue, and murder that takes him to the throne, a complexity that reduces itself to a simple end. Richmond chases Richard up the framework of the ruin, to the top, where the usurping king falls into the flames and rubble below, to his death. Richmond assumes the crown.
Shakespeare’s Richmond is in the right, or is given that appearance, an assessment history challenges. But whatever Richard’s fall, Richmond’s rise might have meant to an Elizabethan audience, for the Tudor dynasty, we also have to ask what it means to us now, here, elsewhere, what has been been resolved since, if anything, what can be understood, if anything, where we go from there.
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them
Shakespeare’s Richard—Ian McKellen in the movie—faults his deformity, his hunchback and ill-formed limbs, that makes him an outcast
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
and provides motive for revenge against the world. As with other Shakespearean characters, especially his villains, the motive does not explain behavior or justify it, but rather provides a mechanism to propel the plot and give a name to something nameless, gratuitous and monstrous, that, once unleashed, captivates Richard and allows him to maneuver among the fractious houses of York and Lancaster and commit atrocities they either do not see coming or cannot stop, that feeds on itself and propels him further, taking us with him, as we become captivated as well. We all become complicit.
Shakespeare’s Richard is a fictional character, almost just an abstraction of a man. Putin and that other man, however, are quite real—and almost as wholly abstract. For them Richard’s outward deformity is internal, a flawed, hidden character within just as deformed, that manifests itself in their restrained or contorted faces, their withering words, their violence. In all three we see the the effects of self looking on power, and on something else, one playing on the other in ascending, complex spiral until simplification, inevitably, is reached.
As I write this, in the winter of our discontent, and follow the news of destruction, the mounting death, I despair the last centuries have brought us much else.
The Battersea Power Station itself, however, is a distinctive building, monumental, memorable, and well loved. To say it is an expression of empire, of oppression, as current political polemics might accuse, ignores its esthetic appeal and trivializes cultural discussion, reducing it to sterile, simplistic terms at our expense. Still, it imposes as it impresses. And it haunts us and raises questions we are hard put to answer, one of which is the source of our attraction.
It has also been the setting for other dark fictions. In the movie High Treason, a British Cold War thriller, political radicals in London influenced by infiltrators and ideology from the east, not named, plan at the end to blow up Battersea and other power stations to throw England into turmoil. But the station rises high above the conspirators, obscure, somber, and ominous, not as a shining beacon of light and established order that might contrast with their black purpose and make statement against it.
Inside, the conspirators make their way through vast chambers filled with large, complex, machinery that cannot be seen in whole or its functions understood, its steady, insistent din providing the background for the staccato gunfire, somehow related. The police arrive just in time, the conspirators are stopped, the power of Britain is saved, but it is not clear what in Battersea, in Britain has been saved, what remains, what might yet linger.
The power station has figured just as ominously in dystopia. In Children of Men, set in a future where for unknown cause all human reproduction has ceased, it becomes the Ark of Art, which stores art treasures of the past for no discernible purpose, removed from the world, from its people, heavily guarded. Creativity has closed in on itself and stalled, and like procreation has no possible future.
In the movie version of Nineteen Eighty-Four Battersea looms large as Winston Smith—John Hurt—waits for the train that will take him to the countryside for a rendezvous with Julia, an illegal affair. At the end, after he has been captured then cleansed to mindlessness by torture, he walks across an open field. On his left, free-standing scaffolding props up a giant screen with the image of Big Brother, everywhere present. Before him, in the distance, an urban vista where three of the towers of Battersea stand tall, alone and evenly spaced, without stacks, enigmatic and impenetrable, prominent but uncertain emblems of a state that only knows itself and can only talk about itself in shifting words that have lost all meaning.
Later Winston’s image appears on the screen where he makes his public confession of false crimes against the brotherhood, against the state, against its power, against everything and nothing, preliminary to his execution.
There is something almost surreal about Battersea’s design, its hulking presence, its overall impression. The building is massive, larger than we think it should be, past human scale, beyond reason, at the point of menace.
Our attention is drawn to its almost windowless mass, dominating, impenetrable, inviolable. Parts of the building are suggestive but on their face look mysterious and steer us towards the unconscious.
Machine and organic exist in uneasy relationship. Squint while peering inside Control Room B and the octagonal panel atop a narrow pyramid base almost looks human, standing before the many watching eyes of gauges that surround.
Battersea more closely recalls Hugh Ferriss’s imaginary architecture in The Metropolis of Tomorrow, 1929, his drawings based on skyscrapers of the same period and style as the power station. Ferriss tracks current trends to project a city of the future. His intent is to sketch out basic forms and explore possibilities, notably those offered by setback laws governing the rising buildings in New York and elsewhere to allow light to reach the streets. His creations, however, do not radiate optimism but are dark and massively foreboding, and the vast, open space created is eerily, numbingly vacant. We are most aware of absence. In the introduction he asks us to imagine a scene where we stand high on a parapet and look out on a urban landscape scarcely visible in morning fog.
To an imaginative spectator, it might seem that he is perched in some elevated stage box to witness some gigantic spectacle, some cyclopean drama of forms; and that the curtain has not yet risen.
His premonitions are anything but reassuring.
And to one who had not been in the audience before—to some visitor from another land or another age—there could not fail to be at least a moment of wonder. What apocalypse is about to be revealed? What is its setting? And what will be the purport of this modern metropolitan drama?
We might be perched on a different kind of precipice.
The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror.
What Battersea, like Ferriss’s drawings, most conjures is the sublime. In A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful Burke finds the source of the sublime in anything that brings pain and gives a sense of danger that approaches terror because those produce our strongest emotion. We need to be shocked to be taken outside ourselves to wonder, but still will always fall short of capture or comprehension. What we sense in nature we tap in our sublime creations, work that should show difficulty, as if products of great effort that push understanding, and magnitude that stretches vision, darkness that obscures it.
Burke finds the sublime in Milton’s portrait of of Satan, giving him architectural presence in Pandemonium.
He above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent
Stood like a tower; his form had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appeared
Less than archangel ruined, and th’ excess
Of glory obscured: as when the sun new risen
Looks through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of his beams; or from behind the moon
In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations; and with fear of change
Milton invites us, like Ferriss, to peer into the obscurity of morning mist, there to be dazed by the fallen angel’s light amidst the chaos. Even monarchs have to stand back. And even before the supreme deity, while we can glimpse the outlines of justice and goodness, we are more struck by God’s magnitude and power.
But whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were, of almighty power, and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him. And though a consideration of his other attributes may relieve, in some measure, our apprehensions; yet no conviction of the justice with which it is exercised, nor the mercy with which it is tempered, can wholly remove the terror that naturally arises from a force which nothing can withstand. If we rejoice, we rejoice with trembling; and even whilst we are receiving benefits, we cannot but shudder at a power which can confer benefits of such mighty importance.
And shrivel to nothing. Before both presences, below and above, we are brought to similar fear that challenges discernment and takes us to astonishment, our souls charged—and perilously suspended. We are inspired, we are chastened.
The heat in the furnace is so intense, and the incandescence is so bright, that those who tend the fires dare not look at them with the naked eye through the special door at the side. To look into a furnace resembles looking into the heart of the sun; so a shield must be held before the face. In this shield is set a strip of purple glass through which the inferno can be viewed. Even through the purple glass the incandescence is almost unbearably bright to look at, and the bluish flames dance in their myriads on every side.
David Masters/Battersea Power Station
Masters’s words recall Milton, and from them it’s hard to tell whether paradise has been regained or lost.
Battersea was located inside London to avoid the cost of power transmission from an outlying plant, then considered prohibitive. When proposed, the project brought loud protest, largely over concerns of esthetic intrusion and pollution—risks to health and property values, contamination of the surrounding parks and neighborhoods and, across the Thames, of Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Other concerns were more general. The Bishop of Southwark condemned it as evil. Once it was built, however, critical response was strongly positive and popular approval over the years moved to a passion.
The power station was built in two stages. A Station went up first, began operating in 1933, and was completed in 1935.
Construction on B Station began in 1937 and continued haltingly through the war, the building taking a bomb that, fortunately, did not explode. It had virtually the same design as A, reflected on a central axis. The third chimney went up in 1941, but work stalled and the fourth chimney wasn’t raised until 1955. Engineers determined the layout, where form followed function in three divisions, side by side.
The central area was for the boiler house, a huge, open chamber with vast, complex, interconnected workings—coal conveyors and bunkers, stokers, eventually nine boilers, a cooling system.
Prodigious quantities of water are needed in the condenser tubes to keep them cool enough to do their work. The twin condensers, whose miles of brass tubes have a cooling surface of 60,000 square feet, or nearly 1½ acres, are worked by four pumps, each of which can pump 2,000,000 gallons an hour. All the time they are circulating cold water through the tubes in the condensers and discharging the warm water back to the river.
This just for A Station. The boiler house also had an involved and expensive system to treat exiting smoke to remove sulfur and other pollutants from the combusted coal that required flues running the length of the building to hold the gas while sprayed. This arrangement necessitated placing the four chimneys at the corners.
And the boiler house held the mechanical annex, which sent the energy of steam pressure to the turbine hall.
The last of the three turbines to be fitted was, early in 1937, the most powerful turbine in Europe. The first two turbines are giants of 92,000 horse-power. Either turbine develops 69,000 kilowatts, or 69,000,000 watts of electric power. Big and powerful as they are, they will not compare with the latest turbine, which develops 140,000 horse-power to give 105,000 kilowatts. These three turbines have therefore a combined output of 243,000,000 watts. They turn at 1,500 revolutions a minute, and a serious accident would happen if these gigantic masses of revolving metal went beyond the limits of endurance and flew asunder.
Again, Masters speaks only of A. The turbines connected to the generators that received their mechanical energy and converted it to electricity. Next to the turbine halls, at the ends of the building on either side, the switch houses that sent the created power to the grid of England.
All this power is controlled by switches of a magnitude that is difficult for the average man to comprehend. Beside them a house switch is infinitesimal. Even those giant switches which take all a man’s strength to operate are as nothing at all. A dozen men, indeed, would strive in vain to open the main switches. They weigh about 31 tons, and are so enormous that they are opened and closed by two travelling cranes which span the whole roof of the building which houses the switches.
Inside the switch houses, the control rooms, their multitude of gauges that monitored activity across the plant.
Battersea not only pushed the technology of the time, it also stretches our ability to understand what we have done, then as today. The numbers are too large to grasp, too many to assemble in accessible formula. Vast energy restrained translates into vast energy released, but we question if the relationship is stable. We could break the plant down further into the multitude of parts—grates, turbine blades, armatures, bearings, wiring, contacts, bolts that hold down and together—and would only get lost if we tried to imagine assemblage. We can only stand apart in mute contemplation, moved to awe, perhaps no small fear. We are astonished.
But of course the station performed to expectation for decades, without major mishap. At its peak, with B completed, Battersea generated power for a fifth of London. And of course its technology was superseded with technology more more sophisticated, more efficient, and more powerful. Britain moved to nuclear energy, outside the cities, finding ways to transmit the power. It’s the exterior that arrested then and still gives pause today. Here design is on its own, away from function of internal structure, of use, of purpose.
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was given the task to provide the building with a distinctive face to promote its significance to London, to the world, to posterity. If Battersea doesn’t speak of British Empire, it does have the poise and vitality that might define a nation. How far removed it is from the simple but huge boxes we see today for industrial and utility concerns, mere abstractions stuck in landscapes without connection to the past, to the land, to us, to anything.
Battersea’s brick reinforces its traditional use elsewhere in London and all of England. Its surface is warm and tactile, reminding us of blood and earth. Assembled, the bricks have complex texture that has been qualified and enhanced by time, by the elements. The horizontal is balanced with the vertical and anchored in the towers. Vertical striations emphasize lift and add a rhythm that counterpoints the mass. It’s the four chimneys that most engage, that most identify Battersea, that we most remember, their whiteness providing the contrast of lightness to the somber mass, their wide spacing projecting openness above, their tall, slender forms continuing, increasing lift and taking us into the sky, as if in heavenly ascension. Overall, the design is solid and stable, yet varied and energetic. All the elements are joined into an expressive whole that is complete and coherent in its own way.
One is hard put, however, to say what that way is. The building is decidedly modern in its simplifications and emphasis on basic forms, but it stands apart from modernism in its materials, in its poise and formal guise, and instead of putting the past behind it Battersea looks back. How far back is problematic. There is something gothic in the vertical lift. The stacks, tapered and fluted, closely resemble classical columns but they literally turn the language on its head. Instead of supporting weight above the ground they stand free and support nothing. What for millennia were structural members are hollowed out to pass smoke. The temptation is to suggest an early foray into the incidental irony of Postmodernism, were their use not in earnest, so convincing, so essential to the design.
And it resembles no type of building we know. It has often been compared to a cathedral and called a temple of power, though Scott disliked the comparison. Rather it is the opposite. There is no ritual plan, no hierarchy as might be suggested by a cross-shaped floor plan, a spire and front towers. Its dominant feature from a distance is the identical and evenly spaced stacks that have no symbolic representation or meaning, ethereally platonic. Instead of opening itself up with windows to allow light and pass the spirit, Battersea closes up on itself up and retains what is inside.
The term most often used to describe Battersea is “iconic.” The word has been diluted to meaninglessness, used to describe anything that is different, odd, or just catchy. Icon comes from the Greek word εἰκών, meaning image or resemblance. For Christians an icon became a statement of faith, a call to worship.
Inside, the station did have its own charged images, in the Art Deco bronzes on the doors of the first control room. These figures are suggestive, representing humans as creators of power, or as personifications of power itself. The figure on the right stands above a circular form that resembles turbine blades and the sun, as if the forces of nature have been fused with technology and unleashed. But where is the faith, the way, the final reckoning? Both figures unite and at same time push against buildings that tilt perilously from their exertion, off axis, still holding them in check but disrupting their use. Creation has been joined with the possibility of destruction. We are struck with the fear of change Milton’s Satan stirs.
The best analog for the figures might be Shiva.
Outside, on the exterior, there are no saints or crosses, no human figures at all, no signs or symbols, nor any sense of beginnings or ends, not for us from a distance, or even at ground level. Even entry is diminished and obscured. For all its energy, we are most aware of closed, undifferentiated mass, and the accents don’t lighten that mass but highlight it. Perhaps the station might more resemble a prison with its imposing, impenetrable closure. Worse, at a later time a somber, windowless building releasing smoke brings horrific memories. Neither association sticks, however. Besides, we know it is a power station, and if we have any doubts we only need to step into the yard. Yet on its face, while we get a sense of orderly division and integration, there is no indication of how the parts relate to what goes on inside, what we should understand about internal order.
The building doesn’t represent or resemble anything other than itself. This is what gives the design its power, how much it doesn’t represent anything else even though we know what it is, that and how many questions it raises, how much it moves and unsettles us in uncertain ways. It is sublimely ambiguous.
Step into the yard, however, and function returns with a vengeance.
Docks for the barges that bring coal on the Thames from the fields of England, unloading cranes, the coal yard, a network of conveyors, waste treatment, waste storage and removal, railroad lines and sidings, fans and other appendages on the roof, still more—a whole system, vast, orderly, sublime in its own right, without esthetic, with no apparent physical connection to the building other than the conveyor which enters it in the opening on the left side. Coal, steam, rail, electricity—the yard does resemble something, in miniature, the Industrial Revolution—
Or the Waste Land. It’s hard not to imagine all the smells, the noise, the dirt, the coal dust that must have covered the yard and climbed the station, blackness everywhere. The scrubbers to wash the smoke only worked so well and the chimneys still smoked. Sulphur dioxide removed from the smoke of the combusted coal passed into the Thames as sulphuric acid, completing the cycle in ways that should concern us. Our need for power takes its toll on our well being, the health of the land. A balance has been pushed, and it’s hard not to imagine as well the worst that can happen—
Still, control was managed in the impacted, darkened yard, and the brick edifice stood above it for decades, aloof, presiding over, keeping its distance, yet compromised, maybe compromising, but still rising above the shadows of our worst fears, massively present yet elusive, ever holding us captive. It could be argued that the strength of its design lies in its ability to give visual expression to the power the station creates and the potential power of disruption, containing those with dignity and elevation, though we may not rest easy with that conclusion. More, there is recognition that material progress and culture are not simple things, are not the same thing, that our desires, our needs, our ambitions have to be weighed against the risks. There are no easy answers. In its ambiguity and the risks, shades of the tragic, another aspect of the sublime.
Most, the building keeps our imagination alive. Somewhere, deflected from its imposing face, escaping within, rising with smoke, the thing we cannot name. With the nameless, the sense of time.
High Treason takes us back to a time when the full station was intact and fully functional, to the darkness of the 1950s, the hidden war. Perhaps we take comfort that the conspirators have been stopped and the powers of the station and the state have been preserved, but we cannot relax. The opposing forces remain, the war will continue. Maintaining order in any circumstance is a complex matter fraught with compromise and peril. Or in Battersea do we see the dark underside, the unconscious workings of power, of the state, of order itself?
In recent time, however, Battersea has most been known only in part, as a ruin. A Station was shut down in 1974; B continued another nine years before the whole station was decommissioned. The power plant had run its life. It was listed as a landmark to be preserved. The problem then was what to do with it. In the 1980s John Broome, the first of a line of developers, propped the walls, removed the roof to take out the boilers, and demolished the upper west wall because it was compromised by sulfur. His plans came to nothing, however, and the building remained in this form for another forty years.
As a ruin perhaps it gains its most powerful expression. It provides a marker in time, reminding us we have a past and once had a place in it, that we materially exist in time. Perhaps we look on our ambitions time past with some pride, but also with reservations. Progress is thrown in a different light, seen now as decayed, and we wonder whether what we have replaced it with will follow the same course. We still know what the building once was, even though it is hollowed out and defunct, and we know what it once generated in great quantity. Now we know what it cannot do and will never do again. Still the memory lingers, but the mystery of the complexity within has disappeared, taking us to reflections that have no bounds.
Ruins remind us of time itself, its course, its destruction, its complementing, its countering creative forces. And they place us in eternity, where we stand, where we are lost. We create, we endure, we vanish.
In partial creations we are most aware of our condition, our humanity.
In Richard III we see Battersea as this ruin, and may or not know what it once was though are impressed with its imposing remaining structure and are still taken to reflection of past use and power of some sort. The movie conflates the layers of time. It takes us back to the War of the Roses and Elizabethan times, but in the fascist trappings we also are reminded of our own war that brought civilization to the edge. What has changed since. Whatever relief we might feel when Richard falls into the flames and rubble of Battersea and disappears can only be short-lived. Or is suspect. Who has taken Richmond and Richard’s place now, are we sure we know them? The ruin invites these questions and answers none. Are we that sure of ourselves? We always get into trouble when we elevate ourselves and project our fears and anger on another, and doing so prevents us from seeing the wretched boar in us all.
Battersea returns in the future dystopias, out of time, intact but out of context, with forced, dubious function in Children and in Nineteen Eighty-Four no apparent function at all. It reminds us we once had a past from which we have been severed. In both worlds we have been diminished to subsistence and have lost cultural ground for comparison, for reflection, taking us from the sublime to sheer horror.
Inside, the ice-skating lake was still there, as was the waterfall and a hot-air balloon ride to take visitors up to the roof and down again. But now the five galleries were to be themed on the continents: Asia would include a Chinese Emporium, Poor Man’s Market and Chinese restaurants, shops where you could purchase ivory from India, or watch Oriental jugglers, Indian magicians, Thai dancers and Chinese calligraphists; the African gallery would have Egyptian dancers, and the warriors and wildlife of the African bush; Europe encompassed an English village green—still with the glassblowers—and stalls at which visitors could buy French cheese, Dutch clogs, Italian pasta and castanets from Spain; the space devoted to America would have Canadian lumberjacks, Mississippi River boats and Mexican fiestas.
Peter Watts/Up in Smoke
In our time Battersea was turned over to developers and visionaries, to the wonders of diversion, to a manufactured past. Above, one of John Broome’s many schemes, Broome who removed the roof and whose previous success was a theme park. Other developers, other schemes followed—a casino, a soccer stadium, a horse-racing track, a cinema complex, a home for a circus.
Time present and time past—
In the end, Battersea was given to the mysteries of the invisible hand. Partly renovated, greatly remodeled, it now houses boutique shops, offices, Apple’s London Campus, and upscale flats, a million pounds and up. Surrounding it, more upscale living, the airy, sinuous, eccentric excursions of Gehry and Foster, others. Stripped of function, of power, of its past, of any past, it has become a heraldic emblem, a trademark, an empty symbol.
If all time is eternally present—
Now, just completed, an elevator that rises inside one chimney, to the top, for a view. Wonders follow wonders, with no end in sight.
But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin.
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.
Richard has just ordered execution of the two young princes locked in the tower, the last perceived threats to his throne. No looking back now, and we have no faith he will stop there.
The bombing continues in Ukraine and shows no signs of letting up as Putin tries to remake the country in his image. He will not stop, he cannot stop. He will keep bombing until there is nothing left.
A brick is an obdurate object of ambiguity that hovers between idea and matter, between life and death. Its texture can be smoothed to glide our touch or left rough and abrade. It can be molded into even shapes for consistent construction or made uneven, presenting individual challenges each time one is laid in a course. The hues can be made consistent, offering an even appearance, or they can vary from one brick to another, presenting more individual challenges. But while it can come close to an ideal oblong shape, it never attains perfection, and it can as much be said that it approaches perfection as it resists it. A brick has the right heft for throwing through a window in revolt. It can also be stacked to encase one solidly. Its color takes on that of blood and the earth from which it is made, or both inseparably combined. Whether it preserves blood or shows it spilled, whether it reveals decay or stalls it—these questions cannot be answered. In spite of its ambiguity, however, we are always aware, in mind and in hand, of its touch, of its mass and weight, of its presence.
From my post Mies van der Rohe: Krefeld/Haus Esters and essay Completing the Mies van der Rohe Brick Country House, An Odyssey.
These remains may wish to memorialise the past, but they speak to a need to preserve a sanitised version that never actually existed. Much of UK capitalism was built on coal production – it literally fuelled the empire – and the postwar move to other fuels threatened the foundations of British imperialism that control of resources was tethered to, as the UK had less access to oil. The closure of the mines in the 1980s instilled a deep trade–union culture in UK society and there are many reasons to remember this monumental struggle, and the solidarity that followed, but that is not the only story to be told. Coal mining in the UK was often characterised by appalling working conditions and worker exploitation. The nostalgia for industrial Britain that Battersea, before and after regeneration, articulates so clearly reveals the murkier imperial link that some hold on to between coal and ‘great’ Britain and the memory of struggle that it erases.
Ellen Peirson, Power and glory: Battersea Power Station, London, Wilkinson Eyre, Architectural Review:
As always building models, especially one of this size, encourages reflection, the reason I build them. Thousands of pieces, many hours—the simple process of putting one piece on top of another led to a host of questions, many I could not answer. The building itself went through many changes, and I couldn’t find pictures that gave full views of the station at its prime. Scale, about 1/170, forced many omissions, exaggerations, and simplifications. It should also be a bit wider and longer.
Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.
Peter Watts, Up in Smoke/The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station, 2016. Quotation and much of my factual material from this book, which gives a full history of the station and its recent repurposing, along with review of many other uses and references in popular culture. The wild and bizarre story of the redevelopment efforts is a parable of our times.
David Masters, “Battersea Power Station,” from the magazine Wonders of World Engineering, 1937 from which I draw the quotations and black and white pictures of the turbine hall and Control Room A.
Emilie Koefoed in Battersea Power Station–a disturbing post-industrial landscape provides a full, scholarly review of Battersea in light of the sublime and considers how it might best be preserved and positioned in our times. She concludes:
Battersea Power Station powerfully demonstrates the potentials and dilemmas of industrial ruins, and its transformation for contemporary use should set a good example for the handling of contemporary post-industrial landscapes.
Kate Nesbitt in The Sublime and Modern Architecture: Unmasking (an Aesthetic of) Abstraction discusses the sublime, its disappearance, its possible reemergence in our times. From her introduction:
In 20th century architecture, any mention of the sublime and the beautiful seems to have been deliberately repressed by theorists and designers anxious to distance themselves from the recent past. To assert a radical break with the history of the discipline, the terms of aesthetic theory had to be changed. A modernist polemic calling for an aesthetic tabula rasa (of abstraction) and the application of scientific principles to design supplanted the preceding rhetoric. Positivist emphasis on rationality and function marginalized beauty as an architectural issue. Similarly, the subjectivity of beauty’s reciprocal, the sublime, led to its demise. By arguing that the sublime exists incognito in the work of the 20th century avant-garde, one can begin to re-situate the architectural discourse, and to displace formalism.
Hugh Ferriss, text and pictures from The Metropolis of Tomorrow.
T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets.
Color photograph of Control Room B ©Michael Collins by Michael Collins. His other his pictures of Battersea can be found at The Guardian.
Black and white photograph of man standing at the railing inside the station by Simon Carr.
Station A and color photographs of the remains from Wikipedia.
Max Ernst, The Elephant Celebes, via Wikipedia.
Christ Pantocrator, 6th century, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai via Wikipedia.
Auguste Rodin, Head of Shade with Two Hands, via the Columbia Museum.
High Treason, 1951, dir. Roy Boulting.
Children of Men, 2006, dir. Alfonso Cuarón.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984, Michael Radford. I saw a note that one of the images of Battersea in the film may be Victory Mansion, the rundown apartment building where Winston Smith lives. If so, my interpretation needs revision, though not much. I don’t see evidence of that in the film however. The city itself is difficult to assemble in any coherent form, intentionally so.
Bronze Art Deco doors photograph from Pinterest.
Nataraja, depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the divine cosmic dancer, from Wikipedia.
Aerial black and white photographs from Pinterest.
Development picture from Battersea Power Station site, which reviews the complex and has additional information and pictures.
Flue system diagram via Power Stations of London, where you can find essays and other images. Also here the black and white photograph of the station before the river.
Crown Home gives a tour of the interior as renovated, including the flats.
dezeen provides description and pictures of the chimney lift.
And of course there was this: