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Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s London Legacy


What do the Tate Modern, Battersea Power Station and Britain's famous red phone boxes have in common? They were all designed by the same man - Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

Although Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is perhaps best known as the architect of Liverpool Cathedral—an entity that encompassed his entire professional career—three iconic London designs have cemented his fame in the capital city. The Battersea Power Station, the Bankside Power Station and Britain’s iconic red phonebox design all contribute to Scott’s roster of architectural achievements, and, maybe more importantly, to the cityscape of London. From the early to mid-1900s, Scott’s structures added unique texture and utility to the city and today their presence stands legendary cultural contributions.


Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's Battersea Power Station

The grade II listed Battersea Power Station is one of London’s most recognizable landmarks. Once the largest brick building in the world, the steel framed, brick clad building sits on a prominent position on the River Thames.

In an effort to reduce opposition to the construction of such a large coal-fired power station in an urban location, the London Power Company commissioned Giles Gilbert Scott to make the giant industrial structure architecturally appealing. As the architect of the exterior, Scott created a temple of power, a brick cathedral where electricity was produced.

The Central Electricity Generating Board took the station out of service in 1982 and a plan was immediately drawn up to redevelop the iconic structure. Planning approval was secured in 1986, however to date no redevelopment has taken place. The latest master plan for the site will see the construction of 3,700 new homes and the return of the building (in part) to its original purpose of generating power, as the plans contain a CCHP plant.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's Bankside Power Station (Now Tate Modern)

Although not as powerful a form as Battersea, the Bankside is an equally striking brick structure. Set opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, the Bankside Power Station stretches 200 meters along the river and is punctuated in the center by a 99-meter tall tower.

Built in two phases as a response to a power shortage in 1947, the station was completed in 1963. After only 19 years operating at full capacity the station closed in 1982.

For over ten years the building remained empty and after a bid for listed status was rejected looked certain to be demolished. The building was saved by the Tate’s decision to locate the new modern art gallery in the large, vacant structure. Following the conversion of the brick building by Herzog and De Meuron, the power station is now open as the Tate Modern.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's Red Phone Box

Scott’s third London structure is much smaller than his giant industrial cathedrals of power, but undoubtedly more famous than both combined. His iconic design for the public phone booths of Britain is a structure recognized all over the world over as a symbol of the United Kingdom.

The red telephone box was born as the result of a competition launched in 1923 by the General Post Office authority to design a standard phone kiosk. In 1926, Scott’s bright red design, with its Sloane-esque roof was selected as winner. After some basic design improvements England’s icon was rolled out across the country.

In total, 73,000 booths were installed across the nation, making Scott’s red phone booths a common site in the nation’s towns and cities and all across the capital. Throughout the latter half of the century, these phones satisfied England’s public communication needs, and offered her tourists countless cheesey photo ops. Unfortunately, a combination of the rising upkeep costs, increased cases of vandalism, and the overwhelming prevalence of personal cell phones, the roll of the phone box, and its presence in the city, has diminished significantly compared to what it used to be.

Both the Battersea and Bankside Power Stations have outlived their original purpose and the phone box is becoming increasingly outdated. However, Giles Gilbert Scott’s legacy in London has been safeguarded. The Bankside has been reborn and is thriving more than ever as the Tate Modern, over 2,000 phone boxes are now listed structures, and Battersea Power Station looks increasing likely to find a new lease of life in the near future.