A heritage trail app for London's iconic Battersea Power Station
The extensive redevelopment of London’s Battersea Power Station will revamp the iconic Grade II*-listed power station to its former glory. Across the 42-acre site, the project is turning the power station on the banks of the Thames into a new town centre with shops, restaurants, offices, homes, green spaces and a new tube station in the shadows of the instantly recognisable chimneys.
Alongside Circus West Village, the first phase of the redevelopment project, is a unique digital placemaking experience planned, designed and executed by Calvium. Our app will connect visitors with the building’s heritage via location-based GPS, artificial reality, and deep, rich storytelling.
Combining a raft of great content with our user experience and technical expertise, plus valuable insights from the Battersea placemaking team, the Battersea Power Station Heritage Trail shows visitors the site in a new light; revealing the history of a building which helped shape modern London.
The Battersea Power Station Heritage Trail is a freely available mobile app with three key elements: a location-based heritage trail for older visitors, a game for younger visitors, and a stunning augmented reality (AR) experience which allows people the chance to access parts of the building still under construction.
A key part of the Development Project’s overall regeneration strategy is utilising history to help further the future for the local area, and recentering the building within the community.
As the first area of the development that is open to the public, Circus West Village had to set the tone for the rest of the project. The attention given to preserving the legacy of the building was key to establishing a positive relationship with visitors from the local area and further afield.
Placemaking has been a core driver for crucial decisions throughout the project, and has played a key role in fostering genuine connections between partners, developers, institutes, residents, neighbours and visitors.
Their team have created an ongoing programme of educational and cultural activities to engage communities, and to support this, they were looking for a digital intervention to reveal the history of the building and place, something that could be enjoyed in the times between programmed events, offering a way to explore the past.
The challenges were many, both logistical and technical. Logistically, orchestrating a large scale project with different collaborators and so many stakeholders involved (and, indeed, so much at stake), was an exciting challenge. On the technical front, developing and designing an AR experience that truly translates the Art Deco majesty of the still-under-construction control room was another.
But one challenge which covered both was just how to design a heritage trail where the site was unfinished and inaccessible. As our project manager and UX designer, Kieron Gurner, explains: “On previous location-based projects we’ve been able to move freely around the site, which means that you can see where a story will be experienced, find physical details to help place the user in the story, and answer some logistical questions too.
“With this project, Battersea Power Station’s Circus West Village was still under construction, so we didn’t have the same opportunity. We could see floor plans and designs, but nothing beats being on the actual location to understand how someone will feel when they’re standing there – the intangible ‘feel’ of a space. That said, we were lucky enough to have a few site visits while construction of Circus West Village was ongoing, which did give us a better insight, though it was challenging to say the least.”
HOW CALVIUM HELPED
This placemaking project benefitted hugely from having all stakeholders involved in the project from the beginning. We started by hosting a full day meeting, learning, soaking up information, and getting early buy-in from everyone involved – the Battersea placemaking team, the architects, the content creators and more.
And by using an agile working process, we were able to adapt quickly as the building project evolved. For example, in the early stages of development, we couldn’t access the site at all which made it impossible to get the ‘feel’ for the finished space. However, the crew showed us the floor plans and blueprints, and we were able to build a picture of what a visitor would see, and how they could react to the space.
Then, as the building progressed and we were finally able to walk around and experience what visitors would see, we could challenge some of our preconceptions about the space and build on the tour accordingly. Seeing the building in the flesh, although still a building site, gave us a tangible idea of the final structure, plus sparked new ideas for the stories that give the tour its soul.
It helped that the site is instilled with a remarkable history, a real boon for our content partners for this project, Sarah Peters – Guardian journalist and BBC Radio producer – and Jonathan Freedland – Guardian columnist and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View. Between them, they created rich and colourful stories of the place which gave us an even deeper understanding of what the site meant to the people and the city as a whole.
As Sarah tells us: “Battersea has had such a ghostly presence in London since I was a child, so it’s acquired this mythical status. It was a joy for me to separate the fact from the fiction and work out its part in London’s development.”
The finished work uses location-based technology to trigger stories about the rich history of the site – a heritage trail to connect visitors and residents alike. But the Battersea Power Station development is still not complete; there are huge areas of the site in development, including the beautiful, ornate Art Deco control rooms.
Although not in the original proposal, we wanted to give people a chance to experience the magnificent control rooms for themselves. So on top of the trail, we conceived and delivered an immersive AR experience which seamlessly opens a virtual doorway into this stunning part of the building, the first time the public has been given access.
“There’s something magical about the place. It’s such an icon of the London skyline and a site of such significance to the history of the city that we had to do it justice in every way. From the word ‘go’, Calvium clearly had the technical and creative expertise, the enthusiasm for the project as a whole, and the right ethos for bringing a project of this magnitude together. We are thrilled to have this added layer of storytelling to share with the public.”
RESULTS & ROI
The aim of the Heritage Trail is to deliver a content-rich experience that, first and foremost, serves as the core digital placemaking heritage resource for Circus West – the first phase of Battersea Power Station’s redevelopment.
This public-facing experience is educational, interactive and fun, and tells the history and evolution of Battersea Power Station and its surrounds to visitors in a subtle, intelligent yet accessible way. All this serves as a wayfinding aid to encourage visitors to explore Circus West in its entirety.
We eagerly await feedback from visitors and users, and we’re proud to have delivered a solid base upon which successive layers can be built as the phases of the development progress. The heritage app is not only entertaining and educational, it also provides a way for the placemaking team to get feedback against their own ambitious goals.
To truly appreciate the exciting future of Battersea Power Station, visitors need to appreciate its history, and the role it played in moulding the metropolis we know today. The Battersea app provides that connection, and will continue to do so for the next phases of construction.
If you’re interested in finding our more about how the creative application of digital technologies can enhance or radically transform peoples experience of place, download our free Digital Placemaking Research Report.
Battersea Power Station image credit: Dennis Gilbert View Pictures