Beauty is in the eye of the gas holder

  • Made of iron
  • Park life
  • Five gas holders we’d love to give a makeover

 

Look around your local area and you might walk past an empty, disused gas holder and think nothing of it. But these intricate industrial Victorian creations were once mighty structures that helped define their neighbourhood. 

And while many have fallen into disrepair or been scrapped, one of the capital’s best-known gas holders is making a comeback, thanks to an innovative design competition. 

We spoke to architect Hari Phillips of Bells Phillips about giving London’s iconic King’s Cross gas holder a new lease of life. 

 

Did you feel any pressure redeveloping this heritage site? 

As soon as we won the design competition we knew it would be a special project to work on. This is the first time we’ve redeveloped a gas holder. These iconic structures were built in the 1850s as part of Pancras Gasworks. It’s a very fragile landmark. We’re talking about a cast iron structure that’s over 150 years old. 

Gasholder 8 was the largest gasworks in the world at one time and we had to make it something for the 21st century. 

 

And you had to dismantle it first? 

Yes. Before the redesign, the guys at Shepley Engineers took the gas holder apart like a Meccano set and took it up to Yorkshire piece by piece. They shot blasted the paint so that they could inspect each part and register all the defects. 

It’s amazing what we discovered along the way. For example, each of these huge columns were made in sections and joined together with an internal flange and bolts. In those days, they would have had to send small children up there to do the bolts up. 

 

What was the biggest challenge during the redesign? 

The problem with cast iron is that it’s great with compression but not tension. Once the engineers had blasted off all the paint we saw lots of tears and cracks in the iron. We had to refurbish it all and rebuild it on the north side of the Regent’s Canal. 

Putting it all back together with the same dimensions was a hair-raising experience. It’s not a perfectly circular structure, so you worry if the last piece will fit. 

A transformed gas holder

Has your view of gas holders changed after working on this project? 

I think they’re something unique and interesting in the heart of our cities. Some are more beautiful than others but London has some particularly distinctive ones like those at Oval and Bow. 

They were built to be functional and pragmatic but over time they’ve grown to become landmarks of our skyline. Now they’re starting to disappear, I think people realise they rather like them and Gasholder 8 is one of the most beautiful. 

 

If I said gas holder, would you say art or eyesore? 

Art, definitely. 

A transformed gas holder

Five other gas holders we’d love to see redesigned 

1. Bethnal Green 

What we’d turn it into: London’s first carousel bar. Hold on to those drinks. 

2. Newcastle 

What we’d turn it into: The UK’s largest circus. Who’s with us? 

3. Poplar

What we’d turn it into: A city farm. Or, a zoo? Definitely a zoo. 

4. Oval

What we’d turn it into: A free rooftop viewing space, overlooking the famous cricket ground. 

5. Blackburn 

What we’d turn it into: A music stadium – “The 02 of the North,” the papers would say. 

Do you live near a gasholder? If so, what would you like to see done with it? Send us your comments on Facebook or tweet us @BritishGas 

 

Around the web 

Will the UK’s gasholders be missed? 

Heatherwick redevelops coal yards at King’s Cross 

Gasometers: icons of energy

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