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Iconic Post-Modern Pumping Station Given Listed Status

  • John Outram’s colourful Post-Modern Pumping Station on London’s Isle of Dogs now Grade II* listed
  • First listing to come out of Historic England’s Post-Modernism project
  • Listing announced to coincide with the London Festival of Architecture

A striking Post-Modern building still in use as a pumping station in east London has been listed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

It now joins the 8% of buildings listed in the upper categories of Grade II* and Grade I – a select group of England’s finest and most important buildings.

The Isle of Dogs Pumping Station, 1986-1988 by John Outram, is listed at Grade II*
The Isle of Dogs Pumping Station, 1986-1988 by John Outram, is listed at Grade II* © Historic England / James O. Davies

Post-Modernism represents an important strand of late twentieth-century architecture and cultural heritage. Now that these buildings are starting to come of age, and are over 30 years old, Historic England is assessing the most significant examples of the movement for listing – John Outram’s pumping station is the first building to be listed as part of this project; others will follow.

The Isle of Dogs Storm Water Pumping Station was built between 1986 and 1988 for Thames Water. It is the first example of Outram’s mature style and remains one of his best-known buildings. However, No.1 Poultry in the City of London by James Stirling and Michael Wilford is still England’s ‘youngest’ listed building, a Post-Modern gem finished in 1998 and added to the National Heritage List in November 2016.

See the List entry for the Isle of Dogs Pumping Station

The Pumping Station is still in use by Thames Water
The Pumping Station is still in use by Thames Water © Historic England / James O. Davies

Outram’s pumping station returns to the tradition of impressive municipal pumping stations which largely came to an end in the 1930s. Beacons of this tradition include Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s richly fanciful Gothic Abbey Mills Pumping Station of 1868. Built over 100 years apart, Bazalgette and Outram’s polychromatic pumping stations share an exuberant celebration of their utilitarian function; the earlier building christened a ‘cathedral of sewage’, the later a ‘temple of storms’.

Roger Bowdler, Historic England’s Director of Listing, said:
"John Outram’s pumping station was one of the most exciting buildings of the 1980s. Outram exulted in the panache and exuberance of Classicism, and gave this utterly functional structure an exterior which is unforgettable.
It is vital that we keep the List up to date: it’s really exciting that we are starting to see the very best of Post-Modern buildings find their place among England’s finest works of architecture."

The adjacent transformer station is included in the listing
The adjacent transformer station is included in the listing © Historic England / James O. Davies

John Outram, Architect, said:
"The oldest Architecture I ever visited was the painted caves of 20,000-year old Lascaux. Decoration is the origin and essence of Architecture. It can mediate, in the theatre of a built room or a built city, the epiphany of a meaning. I was told, in 1955, at the beginning of my life as an Architect, that my medium was both to be illiterate and devoid of metaphysical capacity. My work has been a rebellion. I refused to live in a city designed by proudly subliterate haptics whose ambition was to reduce it to mere ‘plant’. I aimed to invent that ‘meaning’ and confirm those epiphanic techniques.
Thanks for this happy birthday present for my 83rd on Wednesday 21 June."

Stylised Corinthian capitals adorn the Pumping Station columns
Stylised Corinthian capitals adorn the Pumping Station columns © Historic England / James O. Davies

Tamsie Thomson, Director of the London Festival of Architecture, said:
"I’m delighted that the Isle of Dogs Pumping Station has been listed during this year’s London Festival of Architecture. This year’s festival theme is ‘memory’, and throughout June we have seen hundreds of events exploring how memory is captured within the built environment. The listing system is a brilliant mechanism for capturing our historic and architectural memories, and in London it’s a springboard for debate on how the city can and should change.
John Outram’s Pumping Station is a brilliant example of Post-Modernism in one of the fastest-changing parts of our city, and to celebrate that building as we consider London’s built environment memories couldn’t be more fitting."

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