In 2015, it almost burned to the ground. Now, Battersea Arts Centre is flourishing once again after a multimillion pound restoration.
BAC, a short walk from Clapham Junction, is renowned for its diverse and innovative arts programme, but the building itself is a performance of bricks and mortar. This former town hall is a complete maze of rooms and corridors that range from the opulent to the knowingly battered.
You're free to wander throughout most of the building. Pick up a map from the reception (you'll need one), and go explore this unique space.
1. Enjoy the front-of-house spaces
If you've never been into Battersea Arts Centre before, then you're missing out on one of the most welcoming venues in London. Enjoy a cuppa/pint in the Scratch bar, or take the pre-schoolers to the Bee's Knees play space. And then there's this row of carpeted seats, which adds a touch of the louche to an otherwise austere Victorian staircase.
2. Look out for the hidden art
Thirteen permanent art installations have been hidden around the building. Would you notice the lion's head above? Would you put your hand inside its mouth? Dare you pull the handle? What lies behind? And what does this hand do?
3. Spot the nipple ring
Look closely at the impish figures holding up the swags. One of them sports a black nipple ring. The unexpected accessory was painted on by a workman many years ago, and staff decided to keep it.
4. See a production in the Grand Hall
BAC's Grand Hall was particularly badly damaged by the 2015 fire. As you can see above, 'damaged' isn't really a sufficient word. Well, nowadays it's looking like this:
The roof has been completely rebuilt, and offers one of those genuine 'wow' moments the first time you see it. The new, open rafters allow drop wires at any point, providing greater flexibility for staging productions.
Note: the roof spaces are not open to the public, and the Grand Hall may only be accessible during performances.
5. BAC has a half-dozen bedrooms
The arts centre occupies a mind-boggling collection of rooms and corridors. Among them, and outside the public area, are a number of artists' bedrooms. These are used by performers who want to stay over during a residency. Each is decorated in its own eccentric way, with mismatched period furniture. There's even a well-stocked kitchen.
6. See relics of the fire in the Grand Hall's bar
When the Grand Hall's open, you can gain access to this handsome bar space. What at first looks like an abstract piece of interior decoration actually has deeper meaning. Each of the square panels includes a close-up photograph of damage from the 2015 fire, while the shelves contain charred objects salvaged from the rubble. And beer.
7. Take a closer look at the fire damage
While some parts of the building have been scrubbed, resurfaced or rebuilt, others wear their scars with pride. The passageways around the Grand Hall have been left unplastered and show the blistered paintwork left by the fire. A tatterdemalion treasure.
8. Look out for other remnants from the building's past
This is a building that lives within its own history. Besides the scars of the fire, you'll find remnants of the venue's former use as a town hall next to mismatched wallpaper from past theatrical productions. Here, for example, is a scrap of decoration left over from Punch Drunk's famous staging of The Masque of the Red Death, back in 2007/2008.
9. Take time to chill out
When you're done exploring, you might want to finish up in the dedicated chill-out space on the first floor. Adjustable mood lighting and noise-cancelling headphones should do the trick.
Battersea Arts Centre can be found on Lavender Hill. You can't miss it.