Free idea: do something like this to the Hearn Generating Station

Free idea: do something like this to the Hearn Generating Station

A model of proposed development south of London’s Battersea Power Station. (Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners)

Last week, Gehry Partners and Foster + Partners (architectural firms sure have a lot of partners) released renderings of the proposed designs for phase three of the redevelopment of London’s Battersea Power Station. The structure is a majestic, crumbling mid-century relic best known for being on the cover of that one Pink Floyd album.

The undulating new buildings, to be built just to the south of the power station, are expected to include 1,300 new homes, a hotel and 350,000 square feet of retail space. They’re part of a larger plan that includes even more new residences and shops—some of which will be built inside the shell of the former power station—plus a new subway station and the complete reconstruction of all four of the station’s iconic chimneys.

Toronto has a similar opportunity before it. Waterfront Toronto’s plan to redevelop the city’s industrial Port Lands extends to the Hearn Generating Station, a tremendous, abandoned brick structure, built in 1949, that powered Toronto before being taken out of service in 1983. Different redevelopment proposals have been floated for the site over the years, but none of them have gained traction. These days, when the building is used at all, it’s usually for a movie shoot. Waterfront Toronto has identified the Hearn as a landmark worth preserving, but so far there are no concrete proposals for adapting it to new uses.

Phase three of the proposed Battersea redevelopment inclues this wide “Electric Boulevard.” (Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners)

The Hearn is generally acknowledged to be a significant part of Toronto’s architectural heritage (though it lacks official heritage designation). Incorporating it tightly into the urban fabric would be a dream outcome for many reasons: the building would be preserved, some people would probably get to spend millions of dollars on really spectacular condos and retail spaces—and, of course, the rest of us would get to hang out in the area and be inspired by the structure’s hugeness.

There are some obstacles to importing the Battersea model, though. For one thing, the Hearn is next door to a gas plant, meaning it’s probably not the best or safest place to be putting high-end (or low-end) residences. Also, the Hearn is under long-term lease to Studios of America, a company that at one point was planning to convert the building into a film-studio complex. And the Port Lands themselves still need a lot of work before anything significant can happen there, development-wise. Waterfront Toronto has estimated that around $2 billion in flood protection and infrastructure investment is going to be required before the district can be built up to its full potential, although the Hearn itself is outside the flood plain and could be renovated early.

Even so, revamping the Port Lands is the work of decades, not years. There’s no telling what might be possible when the money starts to flow.