Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The United Kingdom might be a very different place tomorrow if Scotland votes yes in their referendum, from which I've been so absorbed in following that I've delayed in putting up stuff on here. But there is another kind of event in the next few days, this one taking place in London: Open House London, where people get to see the nooks and crannies of buildings in London which they'd not otherwise get to view.
Last year, we tried to get into Battersea Power Station, only to see the place turn away any more visitors to turn people away after enormous queues (40,000 people passed through the building over that weekend). So instead, that weekend exactly nearly a year ago, I went to a more local place: The Castle Climbing Centre, that strange-looking mini-Battersea Power Station near Clissold Park.
I remember The CCC (oh dear, acronyms always sound terrible) from when I was a kid. Before it got converted into a climbing centre, it was a pumping station for the local East and West Reservoirs, and by extension the Metropolitan Water Board. Designed by British engineer and architect William Chadwell Mylne to look like an aristocratic Scottish castle, I always pictured in my wild youthful imagination that it was a kind of Dracula-esque place, full of mysterious and weird going-ons. I finally got to see it as a teenager back in the mid-90s, when – as I recall – it was a museum displaying all the pumping gear, aided by lots of descriptions of their function. But only a tiny part then was open to the public, and I wasn't in there for long.
Taking advantage of its cavernous vault-like chambers, It was then converted into a climbing centre, which is what it remains today.

Visiting as a 'tourist' for the Open House London weekend was a strange experience, as I finally got to see in thorough detail the castle that I had always observed through my life, but never much been in. The climbers had stern looks as they ascended walls interspersed with grooves and niches, enabling the placing of a foot, while all the time accompanied by a safety lead hook.

The main space in the centre has been partially divided by an upper floor area which accommodates a cafe, but which overlooks both parts to make an enormous whole one. 
It's the nooks and crannies of this fascinating building, though, that really made the visit worldwide. Bringing back the Dracula theme, Herzog could have filed his version of Nosferatu here. We got to see a whole new floor being developed, which few others would see. Littered with debris on the floor, the area-in-progress had already constructed the multi-coloured climbing walls, and by now are probably already in use:

Then there was the tour of those prominent minarets, so integral to the artistic and aesthetic design of the building. Looking up, you can see them stretching upwards into the distance, ending in a view of a wooden floor of sorts, but will part of it left tantalisingly ajar. Like the hidden chamber in the main Egyptian pyramid, who knows what lies beyond it?

Then there's the immediate exterior of the building, a kind of utopia garden area with all kinds of conservation, planting, and green-related projects going on. It's here that you can really admire the scale of the building (and realise for comparison just how massive Battersea Power Station must be in comparison), right down to its distinctive Art Deco-esque engravings.

Indeed, just taking it in makes you realise what an enormous tragedy it is that its 'Big Brother', Battersea Power Station (well OK, the two are not related in any function, but I always think of them as being similar in design) has been left to fester for the last few decades. It would be an absolute tragedy if the building was allowed to collapse completely in deference to vast cash from foreign investors. An architectural landmark with its own distinctive place in London's history of iconic buildings would have been allowed to be raised to the ground.

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