As the revamped Battersea Power Station opens at last, we look at the long life of the beloved landmark.

Standing proud on the south bank of the Thames, Battersea Power Station started producing coal-fired electricity in 1935. By the time it was shut off on October 31, 1983, it was powering 20 per cent of London. Both Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament had Battersea to thank for their energy supply at the time.

Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – who also dreamed up Waterloo Bridge, Liverpool Cathedral and the red telephone box – Battersea Power Station was the first of its kind and the largest power station in the UK. It became known as the ‘temple of power’.

In the 30 years since it closed, developers have variously planned to turn the Grade II*-listed behemoth into a theme park, a racecourse, housing, an ‘eco dome’ and a stadium for Chelsea FC. Expensive and challenging, none of these schemes got off the ground.

With typical candour, the late Duke of Edinburgh voiced the thoughts of many when he said: ‘Why don’t you just knock the bloody thing down?’

It is a good thing that nobody did, though, because a consortium of Malaysian investors and developers bought the site in 2012 and got to work on it the following year.

They enlisted the architecture firms Rafael Viñoly and WilkinsonEyre to oversee a £9 billion renovation that includes 42 acres of offices (including Apple’s), swanky residences, restaurants, two cinemas, a private members’ club, theatre, hotel, roof garden and over 100 glossy shops (peopled by everyone from Mango and Zara to Mulberry and Le Labo).

Historic England and specialists from all over the UK have contributed to Battersea’s renaissance. Two firms that made the bricks for the original power station have been tasked with making 1.75 million matching ones, by hand, for the revamped version. Every addition has been considered in the context of what came before.

‘It was imperative that any new-build interventions were sympathetic to the older features,’ says WilkinsonEyre director Sebastien Ricard. ‘Throughout the project there is a purposeful juxtaposition of brick with glass, and historic ceramic tile with contemporary steel.’

Inception Group, who brought us Bunga Bunga and Mr Foggs, has turned Control Room B into a super-cool, 1950s-themed, experiential bar. Expect ‘high-voltage cocktails’, a fab wine list and staff in white boiler suits. Inception Group co-founder Charlie Gilkes says: ‘Having lived in Battersea my whole life, it’s amazing to be bringing this space back to life.’

Gordon Ramsay has two offerings at the site. A pizza joint and a new Bread Street Kitchen, which is part of the chef’s mini chain and serves comforting classics like Beef Wellington and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Another highlight is the new pedestrianised high street, Electric Boulevard, that links the Zone One London Underground stop, Battersea Power Station, to the building itself.

‘The biggest gee-whizz moment will be a lift up one of the 109-metre-high chimneys, with a panoramic view of London at the top,’ says Rowan Moore in The Guardian. The Power Station’s four iconic chimneys corroded during its long period of inertia and have been painstakingly rebuilt as part of the renovation. A journey in the lift will set you back £20.

The Power Station welcomed Londoners to its grand opening this month, with pop-up food trucks, a free interactive heritage trail, roaming live entertainment and a fabulous evening light show.

Keith Garner, an architect from Battersea, is not a fan: ‘Forty years to create a shopping mall! Battersea Power Station should have taken its place alongside other great cultural institutions of London: British Museum, South Kensington museums, Tate Britain and Tate Modern.’

The Guardian complains that ‘every square inch has been monetised’. Other naysayers think the provision of affordable housing is too small. The developers initially promised to build 636 affordable homes, in partnership with the housing association, Peabody, but have reduced that figure in practice to 386. (Local Labour councillors are so incensed that they refuse to accept any hospitality from Battersea Power Station as it opens its doors.)

Most people agree, however, that Battersea Power Station’s lavish redevelopment is an exciting thing to happen to London. Even amid the current cost-of-living crisis, critics are generally in favour of its exquisite design and thoughtful mix.

‘It is a cause for celebration that one of the most remarkable buildings of the 20th century has been saved and that its interiors, for the first time, are open to the public,’ says Moore. At last, some electrifyingly good news for the capital.

By Becky Ladenburg
October 2022

Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.