Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Gehry has landed

The Battersea Power Station redevelopment is gathering pace. Just days after the prices of the phase two properties were announced, architectural details of phase three have swiftly emerged.

As visions from the offices of Frank Gehry and Norman Foster were unveiled, Rob Tincknell, the head of the redevelopment company, said he wants to make ‘Battersea a showcase for the world’s very best architects’. A very laudable aim, though some may argue Battersea Power Station already is a showcase of one of the world’s great architects; Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's 'vision'
Inevitably, the new buildings have been greeted with great enthusiasm by many; words and phrases like ‘exciting’, ‘vibrant’ and ‘landmark’ have been bandied about: these new buildings will create ‘a genuine sense of place’ with ‘its own identity and integrity’.

Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, said the new designs ‘will ensure the development of this former industrial site will put Battersea on the world stage once again’. And he is evidently delighted that London ‘continues to attract the best in terms of architecture, design and innovation’. 

The third phase will feature 1,300 homes - just 103 of which are designated 'affordable' - a 160 room hotel and 350,000 square of retail and restaurant space. And running through it will be a new high street – called The Electric Boulevard.

It is inevitable, of course, that projects of this magnitude attract the most celebrated architects of the day; as I have written previously, the star names of Zaha Hadid, David Chipperfield and Grimshaw are amongst the firms submitting their visions for a proposed, new £500million Crystal Palace. And it is also inevitable that these firms produce extravagant, sometimes shocking, proposals for such sites, eager to display their own audacity and talents, regardless of whether they are appropriate in such contexts.

According to Battersea's press release, Gehry’s and Foster’s designs ’will complement the iconic power station, but from the visualisations released they rather threaten to overwhelm Gilbert Scott’s masterpiece. Of the two, Fosters contribution is less confrontational though their bulk is considerable. Gehry’s towers, however, are large and seem contextually alien.

Gehry claims to connect ’into the historic fabric of the city of London’ - we’ll overlook the minor detail that the site is not actually in the historic City of London - but I struggle to see such a connection. For such a monumental building, the combination of the two designs threatens leaving the power station looking oddly out of place in its own home.

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