BATTERSEA POWER STATION

Background

Considered to be the largest brick structure in Europe when completed in 1955, Battersea Power Station was constructed over twenty years in three phases, each one having its own subtle character of brick blends and mortar variations. Over six million bricks were used in the original building and nearly 2 million were required for restoration.

Over six million bricks were used in the original building and nearly 2 million were required for restoration.

Alongside the UK developer, Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC), and its shareholders, the appointed lead architects Wilkinson Eyre Architects aimed to preserve all the scale and drama of the original Power Station, with its iconic chimneys and vast Turbine Halls, whilst creating a vibrant mixed-use community development.

At nearly 50m high to the chimney base and over 150m in both directions the scale of the project created numerous logistical challenges that the Paye Stonework and Restoration team met with a team exceeding 120. Works included exposing and treating the embedded steel frame, replacing defective bricks and installing four storey high window reveals to extremely tight tolerances.

Innovative Brick Matching Techniques

The brick selection and mortar matching by Conservation Advisers Purcell Architects was meticulous. It is believed that the brick selection was one of the most thorough processes of its kind ever undertaken, introducing new methods for brick selection within the conservation world.

Purcell worked alongside Wilkinson Eyre, with Paye Stonework and Restoration on a programme of seamless repair to restore the integrity of the original elevations. Critical to this was architect David Hills’ discovery of the original brick maker, Northwick Brick and Tile, now known as Northcot Brick, still working the same Jurassic Lias clay and using the original 1920s clay preparation machinery.

 

Manufacturing details of the original bricks were lost but, combining both old and new techniques, Northcot created bricks of the correct size, colour, density, strength, and porosity, all hand-blended in precise ratios to duplicate the original colour palettes.

Representative areas on the building were identified. After cleaning, different ‘types’ of bricks were picked out, responding to different surface qualities and colours. Each was assigned a type number and individually matched. Drawings were also produced to establish percentages of each individual type. 

Unique blends were manufactured to correspond to the types identified. Each sample took one month to produce. This included the production of bespoke sizes to match the originals. Sample panels were then constructed on site for approval by Historic England and London Borough of Wandsworth under the Listed Building Consent.

Bespoke blends

A team of five men made 1.3 million bricks entirely by hand, for the exterior pre-war walls:

  • “Battersea Blend 1” - comprised six different (65mmx227mmx108mm) brick types, with a sanded texture, and colours ranging from dark brown through purple, orange‐brown and brown-pink.
  • “Battersea Blend 2” - comprised seven different (65mmx225mmx110mm) types, paler, varying from red/ brown through pink/brown, yellow, dark red/grey & light-grey with brown clinker speckling.

The seamless repair of the original facades is testament to the skill of the whole team involved for the past seven years breathing new life into the iconic building.