Brick Buildings We Love: Battersea Power Station

December 15th 2020

Brick Buildings We Love: Battersea Power Station

When you think of Battersea Power Station, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't bricks.

The thing that immediately stands out when looking at the iconic London landmark is the 4 identical white chimneys, making it look a bit like a giant upside-down cow.

However, the building, which has appeared in films and on the cover of albums, is fundamentally a brick building.

Bricks form a large part of its impressive art deco construction and are a significant part of the multi-billion-pound redevelopment currently taking place.

After many years of abandonment, it will soon have a new life, partly aided by new bricks.

Here's our take on one of the brick buildings we love, Battersea Power Station.

A Brief History Of Battersea

Building began on the Battersea Power Station on the south bank of the Thames in 1929.

The coal fired power station is actually made up of 2 identical units, A and B, built separately, resulting in the iconic 4 chimneys.

The original plans and architecture were completed by architectural firm Halliday and Agate but the exterior was the work of Giles Gilbert Scott, who is also famous for designing the famous red telephone box amongst other famous UK buildings.

Battersea A was completed in 1935 and B in 1941, although the 4th chimney wasn't actually completed until 1955. The chimneys themselves stand 101m from the ground, which includes the 51m high wash towers they sit on.

In case you hadn't noticed, it's a big building. The main boiler house was so large you could fit St Paul's Cathedral inside it!

Interestingly this interior would go on to be used in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight as the inside of a burnt-out warehouse.

So, What About The Bricks?

About 6 million bricks were used in the construction of the original building. Different makes were used throughout including Accrington engineering bricks, which were also used in the Empire State Building.

However, the vast majority of the building is clad in brown Blockley bricks from Telford, Shropshire.

Golden Brown Pressed bricks from a Gloucestershire based company called Northwick Brick and Tiles were also used in the building.

Built in the height of the Art Deco movement, both the exterior and the interior have key features of this flamboyant and maximalist architectural style.

This isn't the end of the story for bricks though. We'll talk more about them further down.

Powering London

Battersea power station would go on to provide a fifth of London's electricity during its active years.

But it played some other more unfortunate roles in its time. The smoke from the chimneys was used by both the RAF and the Luftwaffe as a navigation tool during the Second World War.

In the case of the former, great. The latter, not so much. It would alert the German bombers to where they were, allowing them to effectively bomb London. It did mean however that the power station went unscathed in the Blitz, due to its usefulness.

One interesting story happened on 20th April 1964 when electrical failures caused outages across London. This was particularly disruptive for the BBC who were planning to launch the new BBC Two channel that night. It was launched the next day instead.

Closure And Disrepair

As with the other buildings we've mentioned in this series, the Power Station would eventually outlive its usefulness.

Both the A and B stations were decommissioned between 1975 and 1978 and the whole station closed and ceased to generate electricity in 1983.

What saved this icon was its listing as a Grade II listed building in 1980. This would be upgraded to a Grade II* (There's no footnote, the * is part of the classification) listed status in 2007.

This is reserved for less than 6% of listed buildings and those with particular importance and architectural interest.

It would still remain empty and unused until 2014, by which time it was in a state of near ruin.

But, like buildings we've mentioned already, such as The Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool and St Pancras Station, talks would soon be had about renovating it and repurposing it for the 21st Century.

Battersea Restoration and Redevelopment

Numerous interested parties have been involved in redeveloping the Battersea site for some years, including its current collection of Malaysian investors.

In 2012, plans were set in motion to redevelop the 42-acre site into residential units, bars, restaurants, shops and office space. It will be a new urban village on the south bank of the Thames.

The vast majority of the office space is going to belong to none other than Apple and will be used as their UK campus, with 1,400 employees working at the site by 2021.

The £9 Billion redevelopment is already partially completed, with further stages to be completed over the next year or so.

1.7 Million Hand Made Bricks

We said we were going to mention bricks again.

Well, if you ever needed proof that the demand for bricks is still high, look no further than renovation projects like this.

A huge part of the Battersea redevelopment involves replacing and renovating the existing brick structure.

Since the project began, millions of bricks (1.7 million to be precise) have been handmade in exactly the same places as the original bricks.

The Northwick Brick company, now known as Northcot Brick, have been making 1.3 million handmade bricks, which will be used to restore parts of the power station built in the 30's and 40's.

The Gloucestershire based, family owned, firm has access to the same Lower Jurassic and Middle Lias clay that was used for the original bricks.

Telford based Blockley Bricks will also be used to restore the final parts of the building, dating from the 1950's. Obviously not as many of these bricks need restoring but they comprise a large part of the overall aesthetic.

All these bricks have been weathered and blended to fit in with the original construction which has seen a fair beating over the years. Both firms have gone a long way to accurately replicate the existing brick structure.

Another Brick Building Lives On

Battersea Power Station is a key landmark in London and will soon become a sought after and go-to part of London, especially with one of the world's biggest tech companies setting up home there.

It will soon become a bustling place to live, shop and dine.

And bricks are at the heart of it. Big developments like this have put brick architecture back on the market and we're chuffed to hear it.

Traditional brick firms are being brought in to continue their craft and more money is going into the brick industry.

Long may it continue!

If you want to do your own bit of renovation and need to find the bricks to do it, we can help with that. Get in touch with us today.