Monday, 12:00pm
19 December 2022

Scenography and spectacle

A new exhibition at the restored Battersea Power Station charts the site’s history, climaxing in a lift that takes visitors 109 metres high. By Janet South

Battersea Power Station View

There is a button in the great glass lift in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that Mr Wonka has never pressed, the one that says ‘Up and Out’ which takes the lift through the roof and into the sky, writes Janet South.

And this is what it feels like to travel in Lift 109 at Battersea Power Station. It takes you 109 metres to the top of one of the landmark chimneys, where you can experience a magnificent 360-degree view of London.

Photos by RAA / Andrew Lee and Janet South.

Battersea Power Station Lift and Sign

As part of Battersea Power Station’s recent restoration (lead architects Wilkinson Eyre), the chimneys have been rebuilt using the original construction methods from the 1930s and 1950s. Visitors can now learn the history of the Grade II listed power station at an immersive exhibition in Turbine Hall A.

Interactive table, displaying data about Battersea Power Station. Photo by Janet South.

Battersea Power Station

Designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA), this state-of-the-art exhibition begins with two large screens showing imagery from the power station’s history. In the exhibition space, a large, interactive table / screen (above) explains how Battersea generated a fifth of London’s power, and delves into stories of the people who worked there – plus accounts of its more recent role in movies, concerts and popular culture.

The exhibition graphics feature a custom font by RAA, inspired by the view up the chimney; secondary typography uses typefaces found throughout the original building.

The tour continues into an interactive chamber at the base of the chimney, where visitors experience a swirling light show and are surrounded with imagery as they are invited to imagine themselves as fire, water and steam.

Chandelier that light ups with visitors’ interaction, illustrating generation of energy. Photo by RAA / Andrew Lee.

Express lifts with individual soundscapes take passengers to the next level that eventually leads to a circular glass elevator that goes to the very top.

The journey reaches its climax as the lift (designed and engineered by OTIS) thrusts its way to the top accompanied by an energised soundscape and thrilling lighting. The lift’s design means that no working parts are visible overhead; visitors can see through the ceiling as it rises through the chimney.

Looking up the chimney through the glass ceiling of the lift. Photo by Janet South.

Once the lift clears the top of the chimney there is the vast spectacle of London surrounding you on all sides. QR code-activated technology helps viewers navigate the landscape and reveals interesting information on some of London’s landmarks.

London by night from, seen from Lift 109 at Battersea Power Station. Photo by Janet South.

Battersea Power Station View

The descent is illuminated more naturally allowing visitors to engage with the details of the chimney interior and lift engineering. The exit is, of course, through the gift shop which has been sympathetically designed by RAA to echo Battersea Power Station’s Art Deco roots.

You can buy tickets to Lift 109 here.

Project Team
Exhibition Design and Art Direction: RAA
Media Design and Production: Squint Opera:
Architect: Wilkinson Eyre
Lift Engineering / Design: OTIS (main lift); Schindler (express lifts)
Audiovisual Hardware Design and Engineering: Sysco
Lighting Design: Michael Grubb Studios
Security and MEP Consultant: Steensen Varming
Project Management and QS: Fraser Randall
Lead Contractor: Beck
Destination Strategy: Blace Bureau

Janet South, Eye business manager, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.