Battersea Park’s historic Regent’s Canal has been transformed

Written by Jelena Celic, CNN

The wooden box on Regent’s Canal in Battersea still acts as a landmark in its time. Named Wood Regent , it opened in 1865 to serve as a meeting place and lighthouse for its residents.

Its wooden deck overlooks the waterways but today it’s largely overlooked. A handful of people are able to sit there during the day, but the box is a ghost town at night and only comes to life if a few cats pass by in the night.

The wooden Regent collapsed a few months after it was built. It’s now being restored to its former glory. L&M Lewin architect Robert Jeanes said the box is one of the few structures in the neighborhood that was built with wood in mind — in a wet and windy climate.

Wood Regent boasts the same post and beam construction as the houses in the historic district, but it was built using cement. Jeanes said it’s a key feature of the art deco building because it allows the sloping wall, which once served as a lookout, to separate the different levels of the building.

“We were there last year to create a garden between the old Regent’s and the new station,” he said. “It’s astonishing to walk through this construction and think, the first building in this particular neighborhood was made with a very different construction technique.”

The building received a makeover in the 1920s and 1930s when it was brought back to life as a boathouse. Visitors in the evening are invited to sit and catch their breath as they walk under the arches — all done in wood.

“It’s what makes it very special. The roof is timber, like the wider side of the building,” Jeanes said. “You would never see that on a contemporary building.”

New laser technology is transforming the wooden building into an art installation. It’s being put together by an artist and a programmer from New York — “who happen to be a wood person,” Jeanes said.

“They got the idea to work on the box because it’s such a fantastic object,” he said. “They came here and visited the building and got really excited by the idea of working on a real heritage object.

“All the late 1800s and 1900s were these parlor buildings and dormitories. The mills are long gone, the shops are gone, the houses are gone. They were very old buildings and the first wooden structure in the neighborhood was the box,” he said.

“Working with this kind of material allows you to create great finishes, great finishes that have never been worked on before. The maquette they came with was fantastic.”

Renowned London architect and director of New Town, Sir David Adjaye, is overseeing the restoration of the structure. Art and architecture critics alike have also praised the work of the two artists.

“They were just getting excited about the possibilities they could produce,” Jeanes said. “It’s such a simple-looking object, it’s not quite an object of its day. You could just imagine it as something as it would’ve been on a door in a time past.”

The box — which takes about a month to reconstruct — will be a reality in around a year. Jelena Celic of Urban Habitat Design has worked on projects in Hong Kong, Milan and elsewhere.

She wants to keep the nature element and living space inside as intact as possible, with views toward Battersea Park.

“It’s got a really great style of frontage of how it’s being used,” she said. “It’s a transitional piece between a public and private space.”

While the box is technically a new addition to the area, it serves as a reminder that this specific part of Battersea is old and old is important.

“I think a lot of people are surprised to find out that in the late 1880s, these shacks were complete with brick chimneys and timber beams and like this,” Celic said. “So what you find very often is people from the north going south to live in these shacks and then they go back north in the early 1900s, they return and start to remove it.

“They really, really care about this part of their history, and it really is an important place.”

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