Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Battersea: Pigs have flown long ago

London is a spectacular city. It is quite easy for one to wander around and be amazed by the ever-changing typologies of buildings, neighbourhoods, as well as the vast amount of public parks, green-spaces and innovative structures such as the bridges over the river Thames. On any given moment, you will not be able to understand all the conversations taking place but will have the chance to taste all variety of tastes. You might run into a poshy shopper at one end of the city, or watch an old lady carry grocery bags into 30-storey, run-down residence at another end.

If you bike around, it will take matters of minutes to go through different districts that are on their own so diverse that, you will feel you've travelled through cities. London flanerie experiences have been great inspiration to many of my recent writings and there are some that I have been referencing back and forth at. Here's another one I had once mentioned dreaming of visit some months ago at http://ocavusoglu.blogspot.com/2007/10/welcome-to-london-my-son.html
This is a site going through the project phase of potential regeneration. This site contains one of the most beautiful architectural pieces I have ever seen.

Battersea Power Station was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the same architect who designed Bankside Power Station that was famously transformed into Tate Modern Museum by Herzog & de Meuron and who also designed the famous "red telephone booth". It saw World War II, survived "blitzkrieg" and served electricity to London until 1983.

From whatever side you approach Bankside, you will realise how comfortably and strongly it sits on its location. Last June, I was knocking on the doors of the German Embassy to get a new Schengen visa, making a lot of way into Kensington area of London. In one of these trips, I rode my bike through the red-bricked expensive houses of Chelsea, the crescent rows of beautiful white houses, garden squares, a surprising street-level mews and a more surprising run-down social housing estate. I hit Chelsea Bridge Road, lying down some huge trees, running up a hill into the bizarre Chelsea Bridge, without ever understanding what was awaiting in this rich mix of visual delight. I could have easily crashed into one of the cars on the main road or fell of my bike as I was looking across the Thames which is even wider at Chelsea, putting Battersea at a virtual arms-reach but yet as a decaying temple. Gilbert Scott earns every credit for this temple of modernity, the famous masonry experts of Middle Ages who have built tremendous structures could never get for their anonymous names.

Alternatively, you can take the southern route, following the south bank of the Thames river, across Westminster, Houses of Parliament, through re-generated district of Vauxhall with new residential developments. The southern riverside feels like you are in a totally different country, a sea-side holiday complex with hotel-like houses, especially under decent weather like the day when I visited the site in July. It was opened to public for consultation on re-development (Public viewing as consultation is alone another topic of discussion. I don't if any of this is available in Turkey).

Today, the power station is in a run-down condition and projects to re-develop the power station and the area nearby have failed since 1986 when the station was closed down. Shattered glasses, torn-down walls and decaying status of the building clearly depict the need for work, yet they also create visual spectacles for the lucky visitors.

Today, an Irish development firm is taking big steps to re-generate the site, turning Battersea Power Station into a "shopping mall" and introducing residential development nearby it.

Plans to extend the Northern Line of the London Underground to build a station at Battersea, re-generate the public space around the station and introduction of a ferry-pier look good on paper. Development may mean gentrification, especially in the wake of other river-side developments taking place in nearby areas like Vauxhall, or a successful re-vitalisation of another part of South London. The re-development plan also includes the introduction of a massive residential/recreational are that will be covered with a transparent eco-roof topped with a huge "chimney", resembling that of the Battersea's 4 chimneys, but superseding them by far. This is the most offensive intervention the developers could have come up with, concerns of which can be observed in the faces of the viewers as depicted in the photo below.

It is where the pigs have flown over once. There will be many more pigs, dogs and sheep arriving here on the Underground, but with what is on offer ("The Chimney"), it will be ever more difficult for more pigs to fly over it. Let's hope and try for the best for Battersea. I left the Battersea Power Station site with these thoughts, as a train was approaching the white chimneys of this tired temple.

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