Perhaps this year’s London Festival of Architecture, Europe’s largest annual architecture festival which is taking place throughout June, has caught the mode of the nation, with less large scale installations and more dispersed local activities, reflecting a new focus on equality, quality of life and community in the city, and how architecture, art and landscape can enhanced identity and public space across London.
While there is a focus on three emerging neighbourhoods in London, Nine Elms, North Bank and Royal Docks, events and activities are taking place across the city whether it be as simple as a sandcastle and sand pit for children to play in Duke of York Square in Chelsea, or “Entwine”, the geometric sculptural installation by Lianne Clarke and Tim Hornsby and an old red K2 phone box (designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, as was the adjacent Power Station), a community project for people to record and viewr thoughts and memories of the power station and the area.
The iconic Battersea Power Station, made world-famous by the Beatles and Pink Floyd, closed in 1983 and there have been many proposals to revive it and the area around it. At long last, the first phase, Circus West will open in the next few months and the riverside walkway will be extended in front of the power station in September.
A difficult site, running along the main railway line into Victoria, and with a façade longer than the Shard is high, the architecture is a little monolithic, with occasional changes in plane, tucks and angles. Perhaps the architects SimpsonHaugh and Partners wanted it to wrap round and reflect the dark brick of the old power station? At first impression, it appears a missed opportunity for something of civic quality that will add to the identity of this new neighbourhood. There is a focus on the river for public space, and on the ground floor for retail, eating and drinking spaces that will enliven the area, including the arches of the railway viaduct, but places are not just about the river, they are also about the connections down to it and about the architecture itself. The railway elevation has greater variety with a “gold” building designed by drMM; the scheme would have been improved with something similar to add variety to the lengthy façade facing the power station.
The good news is that Jude Kelly, working with all the developers along the Nine Elms corridor, is developing a strategy for an arts corridor along the river, which will join up to the South Bank Centre, Oxo Tower, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre and other arts venues further along the south bank including new ones in Lambeth such as Newport Street Gallery, the proposed Museum of Immigration and Fire Brigade Museum.
We will need to wait for future phases to see how the rest of this new neighbourhood develops.
As an aside, it is great to see that the riverside waste transfer station is in use during the building construction. It is a fascinating piece of industrial heritage and I hope it stays once the scheme is finished.