Of all the derelict places littering the urban (and rural) landscape, industrial complexes are among the most prevalent. Shutting shop for myriad reasons, from changing economies to advances in technology, abandoned industrial buildings often hide fascinating histories and notable architecture, as seen on this visual journey through the South Fremantle Power Station.
Fremantle, near Perth in Western Australia, rose as an industrial centre after Richard Goldsmith Meares established a lime kiln there in 1831. With the relatively safe harbour of Owen’s Anchorage in Cockburn Sound, the addition of a railway, abbatoir and skin drying sheds, the area grew to handle much of Perth’s heavy industry – complimented by the addition of the coal-fired South Fremantle Power Station.
The power station fired up for the first time in January 1951 and remained in use for 34 years. But increased demand for residential housing from the 1980s led to its closure in September 1985. And what of life after electricity? Well, first of all (and rather sadly as we’ll see below), its four imposing chimneys were demolished and the building has since been gutted by vandals. But hidden away behind its pretty – in an industrial kind of way – facade, are some notable architectural features, chiefly the sweeping staircase shown above.
Industrial buildings haven’t always been as uninspired looking as they are today. From the Victorian era through to the mid twentieth century, factories were often grand and ornate, with commanding facades that bestowed a sense of industrial pride while reminding people of the dominance of the industrial giants. Such traits can still be seen in South Fremantle Power Station, particularly through the surprisingly decorative nature of its tall windows.
Not surprisingly, after 25 years of abandonment, South Fremantle Power Station is dilapidated both inside and out. The interior is a curious mixture of vast open spaces and seemingly out of place decorative fixtures, dominated by the grand main staircase and enormous windows, while the omnipresent graffiti that has left no surface untouched adds a counterintuitively pleasing splash of colour to the scene.
Proof that the “artists” have run out of wall space is evident by numerous scribbles on the floor. If police ever decide to pursue the vandals and make them clean up their mess, it’s likely some named Christian might know something…
The historically renowned Battersea Power Station (above), despite being several decades earlier and made out of brick, shows what Fremantle might have looked like with its four chimneys intact (although arranged differently). Battersea has been the subject of several redevelopment plans, the latest of which is set to go ahead next year and be completed by 2020. The £4 billion proposal will see the building and surrounding land converted into an energy museum, shopping mall, park, and power station fueled by biomass and waste.
Also in London, the Tate Modern art gallery, housed in the former Bankside Power Station, is perhaps one of the most imaginative reuses of a former heavy industrial building. The vast spaces and empty turbine halls make it an ideal location for larger than life artwork. Perhaps one day the South Fremantle Power Station will follow along a similarly innovative path, proving that there’s more to the life of a power station than just electricity! That said, the building has a dark side to its history. Would this stand in the way of future redevelopment plans?