Battersea Power Station Review
Battersea Power Station finally opened to the public and a group of us from Dalziel and Pow went to explore. The reborn icon, Battersea Power Station has been surrounded by hype and conversations about what new retail spaces and developments could be, therefore we felt we had to see first-hand what the buzz was about. We decided to take a specific area to focus on based on our expertise, with the intention to present an internal review to the whole team back in the studio. Attending a week after it had opened on a weekday, we wanted to experience what it would feel like during a more ‘normal day’ without the crowds and initial rush.
The team consisted of three environment designers (Elena, Macy and Jovita), two branding and communication designers (Ethan and Evie) and a strategist (Emma ). Whilst it may sound like the start of a bad joke, the mix allowed us to cover the narrative, architecture, retail, hospitality, communications and digital content.
The history of the many attempts to restore and reuse London’s design icon is fascinating, with the large price tag reflecting what a mammoth task it was (the numbers are currently at £9 billion). The overall ambition of the development is to create a new neighbourhood and business quarter for London with the aim of creating a local community that all eight phases will help support, which in theory sounds like a great opportunity and purpose. Whilst our review only covers phase two of the Power Station (with a focus on the shopping mall) there are some important areas and controversies (such as the lack of affordable homes being built) currently making waves through headlines that are worth a read.
“Residents and workers can do everything here, there is no reason to leave the area” - Simon Murphy
Our Top 6 Takeaways
This review will be a first-hand summary of our top 6 takeaways and personal highlights and missed opportunities from each member of the visiting team.
Before discussing our conclusions it is important to state that Battersea Power Station is opening in phases and retail and hospitality are no exception. So whilst we have been critical, we have acknowledged it is not finished and therefore we want to return in a year to see its progress and if our opinions change.
"There is a disconnect between what is being said and what we are seeing in front of us" - Emma
Who is this for?
As a team, we found ourselves questioning who is this for. The narrative currently being pushed out by Battersea Power Station is that the space is for locals and the aim is to keep residents within the borough. Spokespeople are insisting that the shopping centre is not trying to compete with Bond Street or Sloane Square and in fact, Simon Murphy the CEO of the development said it is “a place for the majority”. This idea that “residents and workers can do everything here, there is no reason to leave the area” (Simon Murphy) isn’t quite lining up with the luxury stores, tourist attractions such as lift 109, and the corner shop that is selling a £3,000 bottle of wine.
Is Battersea Power Station for the new locals living in the pricy new flats? Is it for tourists who have been promised the concept of the ‘15 minute city’ and spectacular views? Or is it a local mall for the residents who have lived in the borough for years? Personally, I think only time will be able to answer this question (a pattern you will see a lot within this review).
There was an apparent dependency on the history of the building and its status as an icon to provoke an emotional connection with people. We found after the initial ‘wow’ and sense of nostalgia you got when walking into the Power Station, the connection to the story didn’t really develop.
It felt that the stores were supposed to continue the story, but they didn’t (only Starbucks seemed to do this well). Mark Faithfull wrote an article for Forbes, discussing that Battersea Power Station will most likely be the last shopping mall in the country, as “there is not a city or region in the U.K. with an obvious need for a new mall.” I believe this, combined with the shift in consumers favouring localisation and individual experiences in retail, has resulted in challenging the current model of shopping malls.
However, in theory, Battersea could provide the best of both worlds, with stores embodying the localised feel of the iconic building within a mall. Yet it was almost as if the stores had forgotten their setting and ignored the incredible opportunity to design a highly localised individual retail experience that continued the story of the Power Station. One of the team even described the stores as “selfish” and thought they didn’t see the bigger picture.
"Each brand only considered themselves and not the space that they were in" -Jovita
The lack of storytelling felt like a missed opportunity that would have put the spirit back into the experience. After leaving and researching more we learnt about some fantastic design decisions that were informed by the history of the building, yet weren’t spoken about. For example, Turbine Hall A which was built in the 1930s had luxury retail so that the feel would match the interior feel and the later built Turbine Hall B hosted contemporary retail to match its minimalist aesthetic.
The wayfinding seemed like an area that was underdeveloped which was a shame as there was an opportunity for creative, interactive digital intervention to help aid the journey around the space. There were signs and information outside, but once inside the wayfinding seemed to fall away creating a disconnect between the inside and outside.
"The presence of more branded digital storytelling elements would have helped create a deeper connection” - Evie
Inside, information screens looked interactive but weren't. We like many others mistook them for interactive digital screens and started to try to interact with them to try to locate what they were looking for. This felt like a missed opportunity as interactive maps are being used successfully within shopping centres. There was a wayfinding system on their website however, we discovered we were having issues with phone service so struggled to use it. This was also backed up by others who have similar issues when they attended in their own time.
"A highlight was the way that the new intervention respected the integrity of the historic landmark" - Macy
Historic Incorporation of Materials
The one element as a group we couldn’t disagree on was the level of detail and consideration that went into restoring the building was very impressive. According to the developers, sustainability and the reusing of materials and existing fabrics to keep the spirit of the building were a priority. It was even stated that materials that needed to be new, were sourced from the UK to help reduce the carbon footprint.
Detail is everywhere you look. From the bricks to the tiles, the material choices of the signs, and the display of buildings scars from another lifetime. We all agreed that the mixture of past and present was a highlight.
"You cannot deny that the building is spectacular, there is almost a sense of privilege of being inside” -Emma
"I was impressed by the use of transparent OLED screens by the Nike store" - Ethan
The Digital Potential
The elements of digital came mostly through the stores, but once again the brands were only telling their story and not the story of the Power Station. This resulted in the screens across shopfronts appearing repetitive and visually overwhelming with a lack of differentiation. Nike’s digital shop window was one of the strongest examples of digitalization but has been compared to marmite, with some loving it and others not.
"It felt like there was something for everyone which gave a personalised element to it” - Jovita
Some of the brands introduced digital features to create a more personalized experience such as Adidas and Zara, who seemed to try and solve their changing room queues with digitalization however, the process felt much slower and will be interesting to see if it works long term.
There was a lot of potential for digital storytelling as it would have continued the mix of new and old. But once again maybe this could be something that will happen in the future.
"I feel the fact the arcade was not open from the start was a shame as I think it will help connect the spaces more.” - Elena
Hospitality Currently Isn't Quite Working
With the grand opening of the Power Station and the encouragement for the public to visit, the current hospitality sector couldn’t handle the crowds. As stated all over the website, the hospitality is far from finished with an arcade food hall coming early next year. Yet very little was open inside the Power Station resulting in us going to the earlier developed ‘Circus West Village’ which had large queues and long wait times for food.
It felt disappointing that one of the largest hospitality attractions (the arcade food hall) within the Power Station wasn’t opened yet. Whilst the cocktail bar, Control room B, was buzzing and seemed very popular with its impressive one-of-a-kind backdrop - showing this is what people want. The missing energy from the food hall could be felt. Once again we decided the topic of hospitality would be something that would make us come back in a year when it felt more established.
Personal Highlights, Missed Opportunities & What to See
Focused on: Narrative/ Story - Emma
Highlight - “I think the building itself, you cannot deny that the building is spectacular, there is almost a sense of privilege of being inside”
Missed Opportunity - “I feel there is a disconnect between what is being said by Battersea Power Station and what we are seeing in front of us, which personally makes the whole experience inconsistent and conflicting”
"I think people need to experience Control Room B"
Focused on: Architecture - Macy
Highlights - “A personal highlight for me was the way that the new intervention respected the integrity of the historic landmark”
Missed Opportunities - “The storytelling behind the design decisions were implied rather than expressed resulting in a subtle nod which you had to research to uncover, rather than being celebrated”
"The store I think people should visit is Calvin Klein"
Focused on: Retail - Jovita
Highlight - “I felt the adaptability Adidas offered through the digital and interactive features was a standout, similarly, with Zara, it felt like there was something for everyone which gave a personalised element to it”
Missed Opportunities - “A downfall for me was how each brand only considered themselves and not the space that they were in which was a big let down making the retail and building feel disconnected”
Focused on: Hospitality - Elena
Highlight- “Starbucks really considered the space they were in and used elements of the Power Station to tell a story of the coffee, which also followed the journey of the customer”
Missed Opportunities - “Whilst it has been made clear that the hospitality is developing and not complete, I feel the fact the arcade was not open from the start was a shame as I think it will help connect the spaces more.”
"The store I would recommend seeing is Zara"
Focused on: Branding/ Navigation/ Promotion - Evie
Highlight - “I really liked how the ‘sub-brands’ that are a part of the Power Station (such as the 109 lift) were adaptations of the original branding. It felt like they had a deeper connection to the history than the main branding.”
Missed Opportunities - “I feel like the presence of more branded digital storytelling elements throughout the building would have helped create a deeper connection for consumers”
"The store you I think you should go and see is Sweaty Betty"
Focused on: Digital Content - Ethan
Highlight - "I was impressed by the use of transparent OLED screens by the Nike store; definitely shouty and a bold move, and you can't deny it creates a presence, creating that point of difference when navigating that run of Battersea Power Station"
Missed Opportunities - "Considering the mass of digital totems throughout the Power Station it would've been nice for some of them at key flow points to be interactive, even if it's something as simple as being able to view the map of other floors to ease the navigation of the space."
"The store I think people should go and visit is Petit Pli"
Spaces and stores We'd Recommend
If you're on a tight timescale, here are the places we'd recommend you try and see - Zara (especially the men's section), Sweaty Betty, Adidas, Starbucks, Calvin Klein, Petit Pli, and Control Room B.
Overall our main synopsis is that the renovation of the Power Station is undeniably impressive but the retail and hospitality are evolving and will be for quite some time before it reaches their full potential. We hope that feedback and reviews will be acknowledged by developers at Battersea Power Station and that the experience will continue to grow alongside the upcoming phases to reach its full potential.