How Sir Giles Gilbert Scott left an indelible mark on London — and how that infuriated his critics

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s designs have shaped London as we know it, but despite his famous “deadpan calm”, not all of his creations have been met with enthusiastic enthusiasm. Carla Passino looks on.

The majestic, almost majestic Battersea Power Station towers over the south bank of the Thames, the stocky panels of nearby buildings giving way to a reverent retinue of corrugated chimneys that rise above the ziggurat like the columns of a long-lost Greek temple. boiler room. A plump pig flying against the station’s black smoke, on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album. Animals may have given way to a crown of steel and glass, but the Grade II* listed power plant remains London’s favorite symbol. Quite a feat for a place that initially sparked protests out of fear that it would be an eyesore.

The man behind this remarkable shift in perception was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who transformed the unwieldy building into a functional version of a medieval cathedral. He once said that he could not understand the prejudice against power plants, because they can be made simply magnificent; it is fair to say that he was right, both at Battersea and at another London station he designed, Bankside, which is now (with some help from Herzog and de Meuron) the Tate Modern.

“His powerhouses must remain one of the most striking reminders of his design ability to transform a building’s utilitarian behemoth into a structure of composition, sophistication and seductive timeless elegance,” says ADAM Architecture’s Robbie Kerr. “His use of brickwork is brilliant. And now both buildings are living examples of adaptive reuse in the most exciting ways.”

Tate Modern Art Gallery, formerly Bankside Power Station.

Although he shaped the skyline of the south bank of the Thames perhaps more than any other architect, until Renzo Piano built The Shard, Scott had his breakthrough in Liverpool. The grandson of the Gothic Revival master Sir George Gilbert Scott, he was assigned to one of his grandfather’s former students, Temple Moore, when he entered the competition to design a new Liverpool cathedral in 1902 and won. His age (early twenties) and his creed (Catholic) caused concern among the cathedral committee members, who appointed another of Scott Snr’s former students, George Frederick Bodley, as co-architect.

They had a turbulent working relationship that ended only after Bodley’s death in 1907. Freed from the shackles, Scott redesigned the cathedral, and it was a triumph: Time in 1922 called it “a splendid example of modern Gothic, in which he … surpassed the traditions of style bequeathed to him by his grandfather.”

View of St. James Garden

Liverpool Cathedral led him to fame, election to the Royal Academy (in 1922), a knighthood (in 1924) and even marriage – while staying at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, he met and fell in love with secretary Louise Hughes, on whom married in 1914. But it also became a project of a lifetime: the cathedral was only completed in 1978, nearly two decades after his death. However, this did not stop him from taking orders elsewhere.

In London in particular, Scott addressed colleges in various ways (Whitelands College of the University of Roehampton in Putney and, as an associate architect, The Salvation Army’s William Booth Memorial Training College in Camberwell, whose tower alludes to Bankside’s authority). station); infrastructure (Waterloo Bridge, as well as power plants); theaters (the unusually neoclassical Phoenix on Charing Cross Road); breweries (the now-demolished Guinness Building at Park Royal with its daring airbridges) and, of course, churches (Our Lady of Kensington on Mount Carmel).

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However, “the most distinctive addition to London’s architecture has to be the red telephone box,” says Mr. Kerr. “It marks our streets so clearly, definitively and strongly. It’s part of the London identity.”

Scott decided to top this most mundane structure with a dome inspired by Sir John Soane’s mausoleum, and it worked. First came “kiosk number 1”. 2″, delightful but expensive to manufacture, then the rare “pale K3” and, in 1935, the more streamlined “no. 6′, which will decorate Britain with domed flashes of red.

However, Scott built only a few houses – at least until the conversion of Battersea Power Station significantly, albeit posthumously, increased their number. Maida Vale has Cropthorne Court, a bold succession of prominent corners and receding arches; Marylebone has a more discreet house at 22 Weymouth Street, which he designed with his brother Adrian, while Paddington has Chester House, which Scott created for himself. It is an example of elegant simplicity, an evolution of Georgian architecture that creates its own identity rather than simply copying the style of the past (he eschewed slavish traditionalism and extreme modernism in equal measure). But perhaps most remarkable is that, as C. H. Reilly wrote in rural life in 1926, a house with “a general atmosphere of … great happiness” (no doubt, the fact that “everything in the interior [seemed] with thin surfaces that are easy to keep clean”).

Peter Martin, John Collard, Stephen Collard and Harry Walker paint a chimney at London’s Battersea Power Station, UK, May 11, 1971. (Photo by David Cairns/Daily Express/Getty Images)

Not all of Scott’s work has received universal acclaim. The Waterloo Bridge has been mired in controversy, mostly due to the demolition of the previous structure, and it’s the only project Mr. Kerr doesn’t like, dismissing it as “such a boring statement” in the context of the South Bank on one side of the river. Thames and Somerset House on the other. Scott’s plans for Coventry Cathedral displeased the Royal Commission of Fine Arts so much that he eventually abandoned the work.

But that was nothing compared to the hype generated by the proposal to build a power plant in Bankside – an ironic turn of events for a man who had already saved an almost identical project from public condemnation. The applicants warned that the new building would block the view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, damage it with its smoke, and even, oddly enough, eclipse it from the far side of the Thames. He must have been fortunate that Scott “beared life’s triumphs and trials with unruffled calm,” as Sir Hubert Worthington wrote in 1960. Or perhaps he foresaw what would eventually happen: Time put it in 1960, “when the station was built, few people expressed dislike for it.”

English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880–1960), circa 1940 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

However, the project that Scott did not succeed in was a major overhaul of London road traffic, which he must have keenly felt, not least because, contrary to his nondescript nature, he had a penchant for fast cars. He advocated a “decisive surgical operation”, according to a 1943 article in Timearguing with Shakespeare that “everything is ready if our thoughts are like that”.

But even the man who twice succeeded in changing an entire city’s views on power plants failed to sway the planners, and, as he predicted, London’s traffic remains “disorder and chaos” to this day.

If you’ve ever dreamed of standing on top of Battersea Power Station, now you can. Sky Villas are located on top of the boiler house, between the chimneys, and have balconies, rooftop terraces and private gardens with views of the Thames. Price? £8.5 million; see

The red telephone box has been part of the British landscape for over a century. Jack Watkins is watching

The architect who designed the red telephone kiosk and the London Power Station that today houses the Tate Modern also designed

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