Architect Rafael Viñoly walks Perspective through his masterplan for the controversial Battersea Power Station in London
Based in New York, Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly is best known for his belief that the essential responsibility of architecture is to elevate the public realm. His masterplan for the Battersea Power Station in London exemplifies his approach of learning from the failures of others, while taking action based on public interest. The power station was bought by Malaysia’s SP Setia and Sime Darby for £400 million in July last year and the new owners are keeping with Vinoly’s masterplan for 3,700 homes, 150,000 sq-m of offices and 45,000 sq-m of retail.
When you entered the competition to design the Battersea Power Station, what aspect of its programme appealed to you most?
I thought it is incredibly important to understand why this project had failed so many times before. We tried to understand its economic and financial constraints, which were oncentrated around the reconstruction of a heritage building. So the original idea was how to deploy a more realistic number of units in the site within the urban design condition. It was also very interesting to deal with recreating the power station, something that was interesting architecturally, but also viable from financial and real estate perspectives.
What were some of the contextual elements you needed to consider?
The historical building is extraordinary massive and is also very difficult to get close to. The first decision we made was to create an area to surround this building and to create more internal views. There is a whole thing in London about maintaining a certain scale, and that’s what actually pollutes the most interesting aspect of the plan. Of such a high density, mixed-use plan it was not only essential to create residential and community aspects, but also commercial, shopping and entertainment elements, etcetera. It needs to be clearly integrated with the one area which has been mislocated – the spectacular riverfront.