Behind the scenes: Battersea Power Station


When we were asked to design an interiors scheme for an apartment in the brand new Battersea Power Station development, we jumped at the chance. Over the next few years, this historic and iconic building will be reincarnated into something special – the heart of a thriving, diverse London neighbourhood, where people will live, work and socialise and an essential destination for every tourist who visits the capital. We asked the man in charge of the project, Rob Tincknell (CEO of Battersea Power Station Development Company), to enlighten us further…

Tell us a little bit about the history of this iconic building.

Three things that few people know…

  • It was actually built in two separate sections – one half before the First World War, the other half after the Second World War. Operationally they were known as Power Station A and Power Station B.
  • At its peak, it supplied a fifth of London’s entire electricity supply, generated by burning coal which was brought up the Thames by barge from North East England and Wales.
  • By the time the Power Station finally closed in 1983, it had already started its second lease of life as a cultural icon having been on album covers for Pink Floyd and The Who, and would go on to feature in countless more movies, music videos, computer games and an extensive range of merchandise from Converse boots through to skate boards.

How long have you been at the helm of this amazing project?

It has been seven years now; I had been working in China until 2008 and I returned to the UK to work on the project. We have undertaken this project on behalf of our Malaysian shareholders, a consortium of SP Setia Berhad, Sime Darby and The Employees Provident Fund.  It is a real honour to be part of the Battersea team.

What do you love most about the architecture of Battersea Power Station?

The first thing that hits you is the sheer scale of the Power Station – it is after all the largest brick building in Europe – but to focus on the scale would be to miss the many subtle, finely-designed details which give it such elegance.  Whether it is the art deco relief of the brickwork at the upper levels, the unusual concrete ‘waist band’ which runs horizontally around the building, or the iconic combination of fluting and banding on the chimneys themselves, it’s no wonder the building has been the subject of so many works of art.

You’ve said that the finished vision for BPS is for it to have a “village feel”. Why is it so important to ensure that BPS feels like a community?

I think that with something like this, public expectations are very high. There is such affection for the building that people want to see it being enjoyed and that it is at the heart of a vibrant and cohesive community. By creating such a mix of uses in and around the Power Station, the opportunity exists to really understand and implement the measures which help build a community so it would be a real missed opportunity if we didn’t make community-building an integral part of the development. We looked at how we can entrench community here, starting with the building uses, so that the space is active round the clock with workers, residents and visitors, then focused on how the buildings are actually designed to encourage social interaction in shared spaces, and then honed in on the specific tools people need to feel part of a community – from online networks to community event budgets, through to local handy-man services and village newsletters.

Are there any other residential areas or buildings in cities around the world that reflect your finished idea?

It’s safe to say that the team working on Battersea Power Station have scoured the earth looking for the examples and most compelling case studies to help inform the development of this neighbourhood – there’s even a ‘cool wall’ in the office where the team make suggestions based on what they’ve seen and liked elsewhere. Our shareholders have been great pioneer when it comes to creating exceptionally high quality and well-thought out residents’ facilities: gardens with outside state-of-the-art cooking facilities, learning suites with music rooms and recording studios, and a roof-top hospitality space (which can be booked for private parties and events) are just some of the really visionary ideas we are learning from.

The latest phase of the scheme (Battersea Roof Gardens by Foster + Partners and Prospect Place by Gehry Partners) was launched last year. Why did you choose the particular architects to bring it to life?

The architecture of the Power Station itself, designed by Gilbert Scott, is world famous, but we didn’t think that was an excuse not to aim high with the other buildings that we are creating on the site. Foster + Partners is not only one of the world’s leading practices, it is actually a local firm with its offices in Battersea, so that, combined with the sophisticated elegance of the design, made them logical partners to work on what is the High Street of this new neighbourhood. When it came to Gehry, the team knew that the architecture for that part of the plan needed to be exceptional – something that really made a statement about the ambition and sheer energy of the whole development. For people arriving via the new Battersea Power Station tube station, the Gehry building is one of the first things you see, and when that building is a titanium-clad flower I guess you think you’ve arrived somewhere pretty special!

The amount of greenery within the development is incredible – why was it essential to include so much and what did you love about the outdoor spaces landscape architect James Corner created?

There is over 18 acres of green space on the Power Station site, including the public park to the front of the Power Station, the linear park which runs through Nine Elms, the residence courtyards and not least, the linear roof garden which crowns the Fosters + Partners building – Battersea Roof Gardens – that’s what James Corner is working on. What he’s delivering there will be remarkable: over 350m of garden defined by trees, walkways and seating areas with amazing views across the top of the Power Station.  James Corner’s work on the New York High Line urban park is genuinely ground-breaking and bringing that expertise to Battersea is really going to be game-changer for the quality of outside space people look for when buying a home.

Tell us a little more about the ‘work and play’ aspect of BPS?

We’re not yet in a position to name particular companies or operators, but I am confident the blend of names we are putting together will generate a few surprises (good ones!) and show how we are aiming to make space for everything from independent, artisan retailers through to global brand-leaders, some of whom might be making their first appearance in the UK market. Similarly the mix of restaurants, cafes, bars, theatres and galleries will range widely in scale, price point and feel – from the local pub through to the Michelin starred chef – which is one of the many advantages of having a site of this size and variation.

Which is your favourite style of home within the development and why?

There are two that spring to mind. The first would be the two storey houses on the top of the Power Station itself – not only are they at a height of 60m so have incredible views across London, they are configured around a vast central residents’ garden on the roof of the Power Station, reflecting the garden squares for which London is famous. The other would be some of the Frank Gehry designed apartments on Electric Boulevard – the architecture is remarkable and this is the first permanent Gehry scheme in England, so if you bought one with a Power Station view, you would be inside one icon looking out onto another.

What did you have in mind when designing the homes themselves?

In terms of the architecture and the masterplan for the site, there were really two key objectives: firstly, making sure the Power Station itself remained the focal point of the entire neighbourhood, with new buildings complementing rather than detracting from it; and secondly, creating as much open circulation space as possible – be it from the linear park, through to the town square, the pedestrianised High Street and inside the Power Station itself – so that the place has that buzzy, animated feel that the best parts of London always have. Architect Rafael Vinoly is the custodian of the masterplan, but within that we have appointed different architects for each new building, so that across the site the buildings have a different look and feel rather than a monoculture development.

What kind of people do you imagine will live in BPS?

People that are really going to make Battersea Power Station their home, that will appreciate being at the heart of central London with all the finest that London has to offer but equally will relish everything that the Power Station itself has to offer – the 18 acres of public space, the spectacular linear roof garden on top of the Foster + Partners building, the private dining, concierge services, and residents’ club facilities of a sort which have simply not been seen before in the UK.

Which OKA piece do you think would fit perfectly in a BPS home?

The large terraces of many of the bigger homes at Battersea Power Station will be great for outdoor entertaining. My wife and I really enjoy getting friends together for Sunday lunch at home, so I have my eye on the Callanish dining table. The OKA team included it in their design for one of the outdoor room sets at the Power Station and I think it is one of those pieces which you could have inside or out.  The natural stone is a lovely warm colour so it can be both formal and casual too.

What do you like about the scheme OKA created for BPS, and why?

I love the way that some of the more traditional items have been teamed with more contemporary looks. The Carlyle dining table is quite modern looking when it is a standalone piece, however, if you put it with the more traditional twisted leg Treviso benches, it instantly transforms the hall into a dining room.

Is there anything BPS will have that’s completely unique?

It might be easier to find things that aren’t unique on this scheme! If you take the Power Station itself, nearly every apartment has something unique about it, which isn’t surprising given that they are carved out within the fabric of the industrial building itself. Other unique aspects of the scheme would be the extent to which it is a genuine mix of uses in one place – homes alongside shops, offices, parkland and theatres, cinemas, galleries, etc. To bring all of those elements together on one site and on this scale is truly unique. Then there’s the brand itself, Battersea Power Station – how many other buildings are that famous the world-over?

What’s your favourite thing about the Thames-side view?

Clearly you’d expect me to say the Power Station itself, but actually it’s not just about the Power Station structure. I think the entire aspect will be one of the most striking view along the entire length of the Thames. The Power Station itself will be set in a circular water pool and cleverly lit, so at a stroke its visual presence will be doubled simply by virtue of its reflection in the water. In front of that will be six acres of beautifully curated parkland, and then to the forefront, the jetty, which will be defined by those vast industrial cranes which have fed the Power Station for over half a century.  In combination, I think that will make for a pretty striking view when the Thames Clipper service drops you off at the Power Station jetty.

Sum up the style of BPS in three words.

Don’t do ordinary.