Industrial revolution

Battersea Power Station, a heritage-listed building from the 1930s, is undergoing a major renovation that is expected to make it London’s latest “regenerated” icon when the main building opens later this year as a retail, residential and commercial hub. Visiting the site last week with David Hills, a partner at Roger Mears Architects, who is leading the transformation, I was enamoured with the use of speckled-blue, glazed terracotta tiles in the power station’s turbine halls. These have clad its interior walls since the building first opened and I was fascinated by the fact that they appeared too expensive for a structure that was erected during the Great Depression and too nice for one dedicated to industry. But Hills explained that the selection was a deliberate move by the London Power Company, the building’s original owners.

“They were out to sell their product, electricity, and to get investors, much like any other business,” said Hills. “The building was meant to represent their work. That’s why they put a focus on creating [a quality place].” It’s an approach that makes sense. If you run a shop, you want it to be attractive to potential customers – and a factory, in the minds of the directors of the London Power Company, was no different.

Today few industrial structures follow this logic (think metal sheds with little natural light) but those seeking to build such spaces would do well to take a leaf out of Battersea’s book and invest in quality design and materials. Not only would this make for a more welcoming environment when clients visit and a nicer spot to work (no doubt attractive to potential employees) but it would ensure the building’s longevity too. And that’s proving to be true at Battersea.

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