Geoff French considers two behemoths of the industrial age, and while he praises the masterful transformation of one, hopes only that the other will be put out of its misery
My wonder is the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras – one of the few buildings in London that genuinely has the “wow” factor. Not only was the decision to refurbish and re-use this building the right one, but the way that it has been done is truly impressive. The beautiful shape of Barlow’s original building, built in the 1860s and, in its day, the largest enclosed space in the world, gives a wonderful feeling of light and space and is in marked contrast to the utilitarian look of the adjacent new domestic station. The refurbished Barlow building provides arriving passengers with a great first impression of London and is a building of which all can be proud.
Contrast this successful transformation with the sad case of Battersea Power Station, my blunder. The power station was last operated in 1983 and since then there has been one hopeful scheme after another for its redevelopment. Every proposal has been hamstrung by the requirement to retain this dark and foreboding structure, which was listed in 1980, despite the fact it is distinguished only by its size and scale. As somebody brought up in west London, the power station has always been a landmark but, for me, more of a blot on the landscape than a thing of beauty. Of course, old power stations can be successfully transformed – the Tate Modern for instance. However, this had the advantage of being a smaller building and also has a superb location just opposite St Paul’s. I wonder just how much longer the eyesore of a roofless, unused Battersea Power Station has to remain before it can be agreed that the best thing to do is demolish it and make better use of this riverside location.
Geoff French is chairman of both Scott Wilson and the Association for Consultancy and Engineering