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Thursday, January 06, 2005
Metropolis covers Superstudio, the Italian collective who espoused a world without architecture, a world of grids, automation, installation and subversion. One suspects Superstudio, who abhorred convention and sentimentality, would be all for the IKEA-sponsored demolition of a rather fetching group of buildings in Red Hook, South Brooklyn. No-one is happy. The world's ultimate big box retailer is notably unsympathetic to architectural history; there was uproar a couple of years ago when a store threatened Marcel Breuer's Pirelli Tire Company headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut. A compromise was reached, with commentators noting how ironic it was that a company which prided itself on its modern and progressive styling could be so relentlessly dull and backwards when it came to its own environments.

In 2003, IKEA also planned to demolish the iconic chimneys at its Purley Way store in Croydon, South London. The towers were costing the store money to maintain, yet were emblazoned with its corporate colours and therefore acted as a giant ad for the brand, as well as signposting the store from miles around. That anyone seriously contemplated removing them is bizarre. They were originally part of Croydon 'B' Power Station, a grand brick edifice in the British power generating architectural tradition.

Croydon 'B' was constructed in 1939 on the Purley Way, one of London's first bypasses and now home to one of the capital's biggest collections of US-style retail sheds - PC World, IKEA, TK Maxx, Mothercare, etc. - set back from the often congested highway. Back then, of course, it really was all fields, as the road was the location of Croydon Airport, the Gateway to Empire that had its handsome main terminal sited on the road in 1928. From here, the vast biplanes of Imperial Airways departed for all corners of the globe. The road gradually accumulated light industry, with many factories built in the popular deco style (though none as spectacular as those which which adorned the Great West Road, with its Firestone Factory, now demolished, as are many other examples. More deco info).

Back to Croydon 'B'. The power station shut down in 1984, just a year after Battersea Power Station shut off its boilers (more Battersea history). Industry gave way to retail, as the road became one of the earliest location for the new-style retail warehouses. The power station site lasted out until the 1990s, when it became Valley Park (complete with snappy names for the new roads: Volta Way, Ampere Way, Galvani Way, Franklin Way and Hesterman Way (the much snappier Merz Road was already taken)). Before the bulk of Croydon 'B' bit the dust, though, it was used as a set for Terry Gilliam's Brazil (more images).

Future architectural historians will no doubt be able to look back at numerous films from the 70s and 80s for a view of a lost London. Brazil also used London docklands locations, as did Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (which famously recreated war-torn South-East Asia at Beckton Gas Works. More locations). London's power station have frequently cameo'd as daunting Cathedrals of totalitarianism: Battersea in Richard III (image, from this Ian McKellen page), Bankside in Judge Dredd. These buildings have now all gone or are in the process of giving up their ruinous states. Will all tomorrow's cinematic dystopias be virtual? Ironically, contemporary cinema's visions are closer to Superstudio's imagery, all unbuildable global grids, cubic forests and 'Ideal Cities', Matrix-like in their vastness.