Gas tanks–gas holders, as they call them there–are a familiar sight in Britain, even today. In Victorian times, every town had one for storing gas that was made from coal. After the 1960s, they were used for natural gas as well. London has many gasometers, including a famous set near the Oval, one of the city’s cricket grounds. But hardly any are used now: Most natural gas is piped under high pressure from overseas.
Now, some of these hulking green ironworks are seeing second life as part of regeneration projects. Developers at Kings Cross, in north London, recently opened Gasholder Park, which features a 25-foot frame taken from a gasworks site in St Pancras. It has 16 hollow cylindrical iron columns, two levels of riveted-lattice girders, a grassy area in the middle, plus 153 “mirror-finished stainless steel columns” and a canopy to keep visitors dry.
The park is part of a massive redevelopment in Kings Cross and is meant as a “unique venue for events, displays and celebrations, or for relaxation and play” according to architects Bell Phillips. “To design a new use for such a well-known London landmark was both a daunting responsibility and an unmissable opportunity,” says Hari Phillips, a partner at the firm.
National Grid still owns 500 holders around the country, and it’s mostly looking to dismantle them and sell off the land. But some of these uniquely British structures might remain. As well as Gasholder Park, Wilkinson Eyre Architects is restoring three other gas-holders as part of a nearby housing project. Gasholders Buildings will have 144 apartments, when completed. “The heavy industrial aesthetic and raw physical materiality of the guide structures contrasts with the lightness and intricacy of the interior spaces,” says the firm.