Deflated – The Gradual Demise of Gasometers

It’s easy to look abroad to find worthy structures for preservation (like the possible demolition of the Shukhov tower in Moscow – as I covered in previous posts, here and here) and to over-look apparently ‘ordinary’ structures much closer to home.  It is exactly this type of invisibility, or territory-blindness, to our built environment (which comes as a result of close proximity and over familiarity) which allows so many historic and important structures disappear, often before their true significance is realised.Gasometer at the Oval Cricket GroundThe term Gasometer is actually quite misleading, Gas Holder is more accurate – the structures were used purely for storage and were not used as a measure.  They have been dotted around our urban landscapes for nearly two hundred years and were used to store coal gas (or town gas, as it was called) and then natural gas before the pressurized gas system made them virtually redundant.  With the huge increase in pipe capacity there was less and less need to store gas in these huge containers and they have been falling out of use over the past couple of decades. I remember seeing these strange morphing monuments when I was little and wondering at the reasons for these hulking great remnants from the first great industrial age.  Like slowly breathing metal lungs – one week filled up and blocking out the sky, the next oddly skeletal; a steampunk monster slumbering on the edge of the city. 1900 photo of Gasometers near St Pancras JunctionEssentially the National Grid have realised that they are in possession of quite a large amount of land in potentially lucrative areas and are in the process of dismantling the Gasometers all over the country.  There are two problems with this: One, is to do with the current geopolitical situation – we cannot predict how things will turn out and we do not produce enough of our own gas to be self-sufficient for any significant length of time; and Two, is from a historical perspective – so much of our industrial heritage has already disappeared and it would be a shame to lose these too. I for one believe that a good selection (particularly of the more decorative and early ones) should be saved – and it is not just the structure that is important (a point which is made in this interesting article, here, which has a lot more detail than I have included) the space they contain is equally important.  I have found a few other articles on the subject which may be of interest, here and here.Remnant from the East Greenwich Gas Works which closed in 1970I am sure alternative uses could be found – how about museums of industrial heritage or new technology, art centers, or music venues.  Such things are far from impossible – for instance the huge oil tanks which used to contain the fuel for the Bankside Power Station, before it was converted into the Tate Modern, are now used as performance spaces – there is an interesting little video, here, all about it.  It just needs a combination of imagination, communication with the people of the areas and the application of great design – so who’s up for it?


2 comments on “Deflated – The Gradual Demise of Gasometers

  1. Kim Brown says:

    I thought it was an iMax theatre of some sort…saw the advertising on a similar shaped structure up town and thought it was pretty cool. Not sure if it’s the right area though, as far as traffic. But I liked the McDonald’s kiosk here, so who am I to say.

    • They are quite mysterious structures and could be put to many different uses rather than the unimaginative option of simply demolishing them. As for the the McDonald’s kiosk – it’s often surprising where interesting, quirky, elegant or beautiful pieces of design can be found, so don’t be ashamed about liking it… 😉 Thanks for your comment!

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