Battersea Power Station

status: completed 2022

size: 2 acres

architects: Wilkinson Eyre

architects: Foster and Co (Apple headquarters)

landscape architects: LDA  Masterplan

structural engineers: Buro Happold

soil consultant: Tim O’Hare

landscape contractor: Willerby Landscapes


Battersea Power Station

I can clearly remember the day I first visited the power station.  We strolled towards the magnificent Grade II* building across acres of tarmac and wasteland and as we drew ever closer, its brooding mass began to tower over us.   There was something incredibly powerful and startlingly majestic about this iconic piece of architecture which remains the largest brick building in Europe.

Built in 2 phases from 1929 to 1955 Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s building finally closed in 1983.  The roofs were removed and the internal kit extracted and it then sat empty and deteriorating.  After changing hands a number of times, it was finally sold in 2012 which is when our journey began.


photo: Andy Sturgeon Design

We had been invited to enter an international competition to be part of the development which we went on to win in collaboration with LDA, landscape architects of the Olympic Park.  And we worked alongside Sebastian Ricard of architects Wilkinson Eyre who must take much of the credit for breathing life back into this brick beast that has become a thing of such great beauty.

We were commissioned to design the communal gardens across the 3 major rooftops along with a series of courtyards while LDA worked across the 42 acre masterplan at ground level.   And so we set about exploring the roofless megalith from top to bottom.  We drew inspiration from the switch room, made famous by the film The King’s Speech.  We took detailing from lift doors, glazed tiles, railings and parquet flooring.




photo: Andy Sturgeon Design


Each main rooftop at up to 145 metres long was based on the essence of the power station: air, fire and water and contributed to gardens in excess of two acres.


The Boiler House. air

The main roof sitting amongst the 50m tall chimneys paid homage to the sky.  The architects’ vast glass roof which floods light onto the floors below also reflects whatever drama is occurring above whether blue skies or storm clouds.


photo: John Sturrock


The duplexes and penthouses overlooking this enclosed rooftop have small private gardens but we designed the whole to read as one so there are no visible barriers or fences.  Instead clouds of clipped beech and Phillyrea make vast mounds of foliage.  Cloud pruned trees of Parrotia persica, the ironwood take on fiery autumn colours in contrast to the flame shaped canopies of hornbeam trees.



photo: Rachel Warne

photo: Taran Wilkhu


Switch House West water


The concept for this garden was water and was represented the riverine quality of the planting which includes many ornamental grasses.  Long and thin, this slender has a path which weaves amongst the planting and discovers hidden seating areas.


photo: Rachel Warne


One of the main challenges here was working with the historic roof.  Riveted steel girders approaching 100 years old were not going to take kindly to having hundreds of tons of soil placed on them.  So, this became a dance with the structural engineers, collectively endeavouring to solve the puzzle of how to accommodate trees. We needed trees to balance the scale of the adjacent building.  Eventually the compromise was 8 trees in 8 very specific locations.  We chose Crataegus prunifolia for its wind resistance.   By way of compromise this reduced soil depths elsewhere to as little as 150mm.  Lightweight soils were designed and in places we managed to push it to 450mm.



photo: Rachel Warne


Switch House East fire

Wind can be a huge issue on a rooftop, particularly one like this that has the wind howling round a bend in the Thames.  Pine trees were planted at either end of the roof to slow that wind down in order to create a better environment in which to enjoy the gardens.  But the bulk of the garden at its heart has become a tranquil birch forest.  The largest rooftop forest in London.  As the trees grow they are already creating shadier places within the garden while at either end, the more open planting uses Mediterranean climate species in gravel, to reflect the theme of fire including the smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria.



photo: Rachel Warne

A building on this scale is something of a machine and for it to function it has to have enormous amounts of ventilation.  Most of it sits on this roof and takes the form of metal structures, some as tall as 3 metres.  We celebrated some and hid others.  A discreet fence also separates this private communal garden from a garden attached to the European head offices of Apple.  And as for the sky garden we designed the entire space to feel like one.


photo: Rachel Warne

The courtyards



photo: Rachel Warne


There are a number of courtyards which have pieces of the original power station apparatus installed as sculpture.  Viewed from above as well as from glazed corridors surrounding them, they sit like jewels amongst the architecture with glimpses of tree fern fronds even visible from the retail halls in the heart of the building.  The Australian tree ferns enjoy these protected places and we underplanted them with many recent plant introductions from around the world creating a botanical treasure chest.



photo: Rachel Warne