Battersea Power Station, UK

21st April 2023

One of the largest, most prestigious redevelopment projects in recent years, London’s iconic Battersea Power Station finally reopened to the public in late 2022. 

Already a landmark in the city’s skyline, after nearly a decade-long process, the revived building incorporates retail, hospitality, commercial and residential spaces, and has instantly become a must-see destination for tourists and locals alike. The lighting design for this monumental project was led by Speirs Major.

Speirs Major first joined the project in 2014, developing a lighting masterplan that created the long-term vision and guidelines, not only for the illumination of the Power Station and its associated public spaces, but also for the entire mixed-use scheme, which is being delivered in multiple phases over several years.

Anchored by a spectacular after-dark image that celebrates both the industrial heritage of the site, as well as its exciting new future, the lighting masterplan looked to “guide the use of light in support of a positive experience of the development for all its different users”, delivering a sense of privacy and intimacy for residents, facilitating easy wayfinding for shoppers and diners, and creating a vibrant atmosphere for locals and tourists alike.

To achieve this delicate balance, the lighting masterplan blends light and darkness across the site, with adjustments in both the quantity and quality of light according to patterns of use and the time of the day.

At a holistic level, the light intensities and the scale of the equipment have been choreographed to allow the architecture and landscape to have prominence. Lighting levels tail off adjacent to the Power Station and the Thames, preserving views and providing an appropriate setting for the building.

At the point that Speirs Major joined the project, the lighting for Phase 1 of the public realm had already been designed by Equation Lighting Design. This related only to the public realm associated with the first new apartment building to be built, not the Power Station itself. Speirs Major reviewed the Phase 1 design, aligning it with the overall masterplan. 

With regards to the wider public realm lighting, the intent was to “reflect on the industrial heritage” with a consistent, warm golden tone across the whole site. Therefore, soft lighting to routes, pathways and landscape creates a welcoming character while meeting functional safety and security requirements. Overall light levels are generally kept minimal to help manage energy use and help reduce environmental impact, but increased at meeting places, gateways, and corners to improve legibility and encourage social interaction.

Inside the building, the vast complex of spaces are broken down into a number of different areas, each with their own unique identity and character – these include the main retail environments within the old Turbine Halls and Boiler Houses; heritage spaces in the former Control Rooms; and residential lobbies and roof terraces, situated in the Switch Houses and Wash Tower lobbies.

Mark Major, Senior Partner at Speirs Major, explained how the team managed the complexity of the project: “Setting aside the preserved historic spaces (Control Rooms, Director’s Entrance, etc), there is a commonality across most of the other interior spaces, in the sense that they have been refurbished as functioning spaces with a contemporary industrial aesthetic. So, the designs focus on simple, bold details that pick up on the character of those spaces, helping to create a vibrant background setting for the retail and leisure activities.”

Clementine Fletcher-Smith, Partner at Speirs Major, added: “With such a large and complex project, we worked to keep our designs simple and effective by focusing on key, bold moves, rather than lots of complicated details. Nevertheless, due to the massive underlying complexities in geometry and heritage restrictions, we required many individual lighting details for each space.”

One of the core ambitions for the lighting design was to achieve a careful balance between maintaining the raw energy of the original spaces, while celebrating their new role within the Battersea development. As a result, in each space, the lighting contributes a vibrant atmosphere that allows the renewed focus on retail and hospitality to figure prominently, while gently celebrating the distinctive heritage and architecture.

In the retail areas, the designers looked to keep the palette of equipment relatively simple and minimal, applying light in different ways to support the unique character of each space. Functional light is predominantly kept local to the level it is illuminating, through a combination of integrated handrail lighting and period-appropriate industrial pendants and bulkheads, with high level downlighting only added where required. “Re-use of certain heritage fixtures found on the site was a fundamental part of the brief, and we worked hard to achieve this where it was feasible and cost-effective,” Fletcher-Smith added. Over this, a layer of elegant architectural accent lighting enhances and reveals the defining details. 

Turbine Hall A was part of the original 1930s Power Station, and is a vast, magnificent industrial Art Deco space. Given such a dramatic setting, it was essential for the design team to use restraint to protect the prominence of the retail environment, while still creating an elegant, refined, and welcoming ambience.

Continuing the lighting language established in the public realm spaces, Speirs Major chose a warm light (2700K), bringing to mind the original tungsten lighting of the period for both the functional and architectural lighting. Gentle highlights to the key details include uplighting the industrial gantries, the main soffit and friezes, and vertical accents to the Art Deco columns.

Added in the 1960s, Turbine Hall B, is characterised by the minimal, Modernist aesthetic of the time. 

A smooth, curved roof is penetrated with skylights – some real, and some added using light tubes to unify the appearance of the ceiling. Here, Speirs Major softly washed this extensive surface with colour changing light that adjusts during the day in line with the natural daylight cycle. Cool, crisp white tones enhance the Modernist aesthetic during the day, followed by a warmer ‘sunset’ feel taking over into the evening, with the facility for bold, full-colour change after dark for celebrations, promotions, and events.

Additional ambient colour-change floodlighting integrated within the skylights creates a feature that also pops through into the roof gardens for the residents of Switch House East. Accent lighting picks up the window reveals and the linear form of the bridge structures, while escalators are highlighted in a dynamic, integrated solution that can tie in with the colour of the curved roof, while still providing safe access and contributing to the character of the space.

The two further retail spaces can be found in the two Boiler Houses – North and South. Essentially a pair of raw industrial shells, architects Wilkinson Eyre created a series of contemporary entrances, event, and retail spaces. The lighting design plays up the retained industrial character of the spaces, revealing the texture and colour of the authentic red brick walls and timber finishes, while highlighting the structural steelwork of the modern architectural interventions. The darker finishes and exposed brickwork in these spaces provide little interreflection, resulting in a moodier and more contrasting ambience.

“While of course the primary focus was on creating a fantastic ambience and setting to support the new uses of the Power Station, we also need to focus on the restoration and refurbishment of this much-loved, iconic listed industrial building in an urban setting,” added Major. “So, celebrating the architecture and heritage of the site was also a key part of the design.”

This is particularly evident in the dedicated heritage spaces – Control Room A and B, and the Director’s Entrance. The goal here was to “reinstate the lighting in keeping with the original design intent as far as possible, while adding a discreet extra layer of architectural lighting and control, where needed”, to enable the spaces to be used flexibly for events.

The Director’s Entrance is the original access point to the Control Rooms and Boiler House for the Directors of the Power Station, and dates back to the 1930s. It was originally lit with several statement Art Deco fixtures, some of which had been removed from the site. As part of the overall drive to restore and refurbish the site, Speirs Major created replicas of the missing fixtures based on photographs and drawings, and restored and upgraded the interior wall sconces, lanterns, and pendants found on-site with LED technology.

A dramatic, Grade II* listed space built between 1929-31, Control Room A had been entirely artificially lit since WW2, when the original skylights were blacked out. Restoring and refurbishing these structures means that the space is now filled with natural light; the lighting designers added backlighting externally to maintain the illusion after dark. The space’s original Art Deco, lozenge-shaped fixtures have also been reinstated, having been refurbished and upgraded with LED lighting, along with the unique backlit switching control diagrams and buttons, and prismatic wall lanterns along the back route.

Contrasting the Art Deco design of Control Room A, Control Room B dates back to the 1960s, and is an extremely rare – and as such historically highly sensitive – example of a Modernist control room. Again, original lighting has been reinstated here as far as possible, including a central cove that now houses full colour-change LED battens in place of the original fluorescent lamps, uplighting the soffit and providing flexibility to adapt the space for events. Mid-century opaline light boxes have also been restored and upgraded to LED, and in common with the other heritage spaces, additional concealed high-level functional lighting has been added.

“In terms of our general approach to heritage, we adopted and followed the lead from Wilkinson Eyre, who are not afraid to innovate, while respecting the history and context,” said Fletcher-Smith. “They have great experience in this, and having worked with them previously, we have built up a language together. We understand that while you don’t want to lose the character and history of the building, the final outcome needs to be both contemporary and functional.”

This approach is evident in the lobbies for the residential accommodation, which have been reimagined as contemporary spaces that draw on the industrial heritage of the building while delivering the luxury and comfort expected of high-end residential living.

The lighting here aims to create a welcoming ambience while aiding wayfinding, with warm light focused on key vertical surfaces and onto the ceilings. Gentle washes of light help to reveal the textures and colours in the materials, including brick, concrete, mesh and Corten steel, while Art Deco-style fixtures add a decorative accent.

The four Wash Tower lobbies uniquely feature extremely deep voids. For these, Speirs Major designed a series of special bespoke chandeliers. Suspended at a height of 22-metres, their stacked green glass design was inspired by the form of electricity pylon isolators, in a neat reference to the past use of the space in supplying power to large parts of London. Speirs Major’s unique original concept was further developed in collaboration with the manufacturer, Jonathan Coles Studio. The upper Wash Tower lobbies on the 11th floor feature glowing linear wall lights to fit with the dramatic lined interior, creating an intimate space with views up into the internally illuminated chimneys.

The project is topped off with three roof terraces, each with low accent lighting to planting and seating, providing sufficient lighting to paths for safe use in a beautiful manner, creating scattered, decorative shadows. Roof gardens on Turbine Hall A and B are flanked by illuminated brickwork that contributes to the overall image of the building, providing a close view of the strong contrast and texture produced by the close offset uplights. The terrace on Turbine Hall B is also punctuated by an ethereal glow from the skylights that cut through to the Turbine Hall below. Even lower light levels are used on the Boiler House roof garden to ensure that the reflections of the chimneys in the central, lake-like skylight are not compromised.

Perhaps the most defining element of the restoration of Battersea Power Station though, comes with its revived after dark identity. Despite undoubtedly being an icon of the London cityscape by day, the building has previously never been formally illuminated – instead being the subject of many one-off light shows over the years. Now, the building enjoys a sensitive, yet high-impact permanent exterior lighting scheme that stands a potent symbol of its rejuvenation as an innovative mixed-use neighbourhood, while also honouring its industrial heritage. Topped by the illumination of the Station’s four famous chimneys, the exterior lighting highlights key architectural elements, drawing out the materiality of the building and its fine detailing to create an appealing ambience that blends the old with the new.

Taking into account the building’s visibility across London, the design began with identifying the important close, mid, and distant views. From there, the lighting scheme is shaped around creating maximum visual impact, while building in flexibility, remaining mindful of environmental concerns, the need to protect the historic building fabric and minimising light spill for residents.

Considering the magnitude of the external illumination, this proved to be one of the most challenging aspects for the lighting designers. Major explained: “We wanted to create a beautiful wash of light, but finding appropriate mounting locations was complicated by the presence of the new residential areas between the chimneys and to the east and west wings. To avoid possible light ingress, we could only mount the equipment close to the chimneys at their base.”

With each chimney measuring 8.8-metres in base diameter, 27.57-metres in base circumference and reaching a height of 42-metres, the design uses 50 close-offset projectors per chimney to ensure precisely controlled coverage and minimal light spill. Rings of high output RGBW LEDs were carefully designed, detailed, installed, focused, and programmed to deliver this high impact lighting scheme, while also endeavouring to minimise the amount of light directed into the night sky.

At the base of each chimney, a carefully controlled wash of warm white light to the geometric shoulders defines the frame of the building when seen against the night sky. The classic Art Deco niches running the length of the wash towers and the slots in the high-level friezes are highlighted, creating a strong vertical emphasis, visually connecting the composition to the ground. On the main south façade and the riverside-facing north façade, the entrance recesses feature lighting to the upper window reveals, with the ground level washed in warm light to create a welcoming entry sequence. Soft floodlighting to the brick pilasters that form the east and west upper flanking walls helps to create an attractive backdrop for residents arriving and leaving, while the light from the occupied windows adds richness and animation.

“As with all heritage sites, minimising or limiting the impact on the building fabric is key – particularly on horizontal and roof surfaces where there may be a risk of water ingress,” continued Fletcher-Smith. “We made multiple presentations to Historic England throughout the design process, but given our extensive experience on historic buildings in the past, we were able to manage things without any major issues.”

“The client was very supportive and allowed us to explore many options for the after dark identity of the Power Station, ranging from highly dynamic to more subtle interventions,” Major added. “The conclusion was that for everyday use, a beautiful, restrained white light approach that respected the heritage of the building and allowed the chimneys to be the main focus was the way forward. For special occasions and events, the facility is there to add high-impact colour to the chimneys, and infrastructure is also in place for additional temporary event lighting.”

After eight years of work on the project, Battersea Power Station officially opened to the public in October of last year. Work is ongoing for Phase 3, in which Speirs Major will deliver exterior lighting to a residential building by Frank O. Gehry; a mixed-use development by Foster + Partners; Malaysia Square by Bjarke Ingels Group and Wilkinson Eyre; and the various areas of connecting public realm, including the Electric Boulevard that leads from the Power Station to the new underground station.

Major explained how the team at Speirs Major worked to ensure a consistency in the concept, despite such a long-running process: “Working on projects with such a long timeframe – in this case, almost a decade – we have become adept at learning how to hold onto the core concepts. Changes to client, design and contractor teams inevitably happen over such a long period, but we hold on – often through simplifying our designs down to essential ideas.”

Fletcher-Smith continued: “With Battersea Power Station, the client and the architectural teams were very supportive, and we were able to retain many of the key details – things like the internal lighting of the freestanding façades to the main entrances, and the ‘pylon isolator’ inspired chandeliers in the Wash Tower residential lobbies. These reflect the industrial architecture really well, while also creating a great atmosphere in the spaces.”

Now that the project is open to the world, the team at Speirs Major looked back on how Battersea Power Station compares to other prestigious projects from across its portfolio, and also how those former experiences contributed to making this iconic new project a success. “We are always honoured when we get the opportunity to work on a truly iconic project like this,” said Major. “You win a competition based on ideas and experience, and then the weight of expectation is in delivering on those ideas – but in a sense you need that injection of adrenaline and drive to help push you to achieve your best work.

“Our experience of working on many different building types is something that always helps us tremendously. We drew on our experience of airport projects like Heathrow T5 and Barajas, Madrid as examples of a complex, large volume that includes retail space; sensitive, listed spaces like St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey; and those that have reinterpreted former industrial sites, such as Bethlehem Steel Works in Pennsylvania, USA and Zollverein Kokerei in Germany.”

Fletcher-Smith shared her thoughts on the finished lighting scheme: “We feel that we are just now starting to get an impression of the overall result, both by day and after dark. We feel the lighting aligns very well with our intentions and proposals. It delivers a high impact image and identity, makes a strong contribution to placemaking, and creates a vibrant experience for all the users of the site, as well as properly addressing key issues such as wayfinding, safety, and security.

“We are really pleased with the final outcome, especially the balance we achieved between light, darkness, texture and colour throughout the scheme.”

Indeed, with the new lighting scheme, the revitalised Battersea Power Station will long continue to be an iconic landmark in London’s cityscape.

Image: Peter Landers