Retail: Battersea powers up again

Retail: Battersea
Image: Charlie Round Turner

Battersea Power Station, which opened to instant acclaim in October, revives one of the UK’s most famous landmarks. Nicol Dynes reports.

Battersea Power Station has opened its doors after a revamp that has transformed the former power station into London’s newest mixed-use project worth about £9 billion. It combines residential, offices, retail and leisure to create a new neighbourhood on the south bank of the Thames.

Despite the cost-of-living crisis, Londoners seem very keen on the new high-end shopping centre. More than 250,000 people flocked to the iconic main building on the first weekend it opened and up to 30 million visitors are expected each year.

Battersea Power Station was built in the early 1930s by Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect who also designed the celebrated red phone box, and is Grade II-listed. In 1977 it became a symbol of London when it appeared on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals album. Before being decommissioned in 1983 it provided a fifth of London’s electricity, powering Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. 

After decades of neglect and failed plans, in 2012 it was bought for £400 million by a Malaysian consortium of investors that included Sime Darby and S P Setia, the Asian country’s biggest real estate developer. The new owners have worked closely with English Heritage to restore the listed brick building from derelict shell to shining centrepiece and experiential shopping destination, investing billions over nearly a decade.

“We’re not blind to the fact that the world is in a difficult space at the moment,” said Simon Murphy, chief executive of Battersea Power Station Development Company. “But we continue to be confident. Footfall so far has exceeded expectations and we look forward to many more visitors over the coming months and years. This is just the beginning.”

The shopping experience

The two turbine halls – big enough to contain St Paul’s Cathedral – now host shops and restaurants. The former control room has become a cocktail bar, but still has the original stainless steel panels and switches. There is more than 3 million sq ft of commercial space.

Visitors can also take a ride in Lift 109, a glass elevator inside one of the building’s distinctive four chimneys. It takes them to a height of 109 metres and offers 360-degree panoramic views of London.

More than 96% of the power station’s commercial space has been prelet to a series of tenants. Brands with shops at Battersea include Ralph Lauren, Mulberry, Hugo Boss, Reiss, Uniqlo, Lacoste, Superdry, Aesop and Jo Malone, as well as Nike, lululemon and Adidas. Adidas has an ‘Empower Station’ pop-up, which features fitness classes and challenges hosted by Olympic and Paralympic athletes, instructors and industry experts. This is currently fully booked, showing how successful the experiential/retail mix can be.

Turbine Hall A, Battersea Power Station – More than 250,000 people visited the new centre on the first weekend (Image: John Sturrock)

“We’re overwhelmed with the enthusiastic and positive response from customers to our newest UK store,” said Karl Wederell, general manager of Aesop Europe. “We had one of the strongest UK store openings to date and feel enormously positive about the future of the location. Battersea Power Station has set a new benchmark for shopping centre destinations, and we are thrilled to be part of this new chapter for such an iconic landmark.”

Varied retailer mix

Watches of Switzerland Group has opened four showrooms. Craig Bolton, UK and Europe president, said “trading has been ahead of expectations”. There are traditional independent booksellers like Stanfords, featuring a designated children’s area, as well as innovative digital-first brands like Petit Pli. “We’re thrilled Petit Pli has set up its flagship site in London’s newest arena for retail innovation,” said Arabella Turek, COO and co-founder. “Retail is definitely not dead!”

Next to the big brands is the Curated Makers retail platform, which hosts more than 40 local independent small businesses selling homeware, clothing, candles and artwork.

The original stainless steel panels and switches in the control room have been preserved

“We’ve had record sales and glowing feedback, showing shoppers’ desire to buy unique, hand-made items that are made locally, within such a unique shopping destination as this,” said Megan Jones, chief executive and founder, Curated Makers. “We are very excited about the months ahead.”

The food and beverage element is centre stage at Battersea, with a varied offering that goes from pancakes to poke bowls, and from cakes to Parisian baguettes. Further food and drinks brands are set to open, including a 24,000 sq ft Arcade Food Hall from JKS Restaurants in the Boiler House at the heart of the power station.

1950s bar concept

Inception Group, the experiential hospitality company, has already opened its 1950s-style bar concept, Control Room B, serving electricity-themed cocktails. “It is incredible to see the size of the congregations assembling at the cathedral of power,” said Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of Inception Group. “The atmosphere in our Control Room B bar is completely electrifying.”

The retail element is not confined to the power station itself. A pedestrianised high street called Electric Boulevard, just south of the main building, has opened. It features the first Zara and Zara Home stores south of the river, an M&S Food Hall and Korean supermarket Oseyo, among others.

The UK’s first art’otel, a 164-room hotel, will open soon, with Michelin-starred chef Henrique Sá Pessoa in charge of a new restaurant, Joia, and a rooftop bar.

Battersea Power Station was built in the 1930s by Giles Gilbert Scott

The first shops, restaurants and bars opened in Circus West Village, to the west of the power station, in 2017 to cater to the thousands of residents that moved into the apartments completed in the first phase of the project. Once the project is complete the new neighbourhood will be home to 25,000 people.

In a vote of confidence in London in general, and Battersea Power Station in particular, Apple has taken up 50,000 sq m of office space over six floors for its new European headquarters. The company is moving 1,500 employees from different offices to its new space on the upper floors of the power station.

“Once a source of energy for much of London, the transformation this building has undergone honours London’s past and celebrates its future,” said Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, after a private tour of the building. “We’re so glad to be part of it.”

Office and residential elements

In early 2023, other tenants are expected to move into the new offices, which include the engine room. The Malaysian consortium that owns the decommissioned power station is expecting to receive £100 million a year in commercial rent.

There is also a residential component within the scheme, with apartments priced from £865,000 on the sides of the building. In addition there are 18 ‘sky villas’ on the roof with private terraces and a shared garden that each cost up to £7 million.

Opening Day, Turbine Hall B, Battersea Power Station

The project will include 4,000 apartments in new buildings around the project, some designed by leading architects such as Foster and Partners and Frank Gehry. Once complete there will be 250 cafes, bars and restaurants, a cinema, a theatre and a hotel, as well as 19 acres of public space and a six-acre riverfront park.

A new dedicated tube station, Battersea Power Station, in zone 1 on the Northern Line, opened in September 2022, making the new destination easy to reach from all over London. The station is also accessible using the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers river bus service.