Dezeen Magazine

John Outram's "Temple of Storms" pumping station heritage listed as one of UK's finest postmodern buildings

A London pumping station designed by British architect John Outram has been Grade II* listed, in a move that Historic England hopes will see other postmodern buildings recognised for their architectural significance.

The Isle of Dogs Storm Water Pumping Station was built between 1986 and 1988 in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets. It was designed by Outram for the London Docklands Development Corporation and Thames Water to deal with the water run-off from the new streets being created in the redevelopment of an 8.5-square-mile stretch of the area.

It is one of three pumping stations built in close proximity, along with Richard Rogers' Tidal Basin in Canning Town, completed in 1988, and Nicholas Grimshaw's Store Road in North Woolwich, which was finished in 1997.

Described as a "highly creative reworking of a familiar formal language, executed with masterful handling of colour, pattern, scale and detail", the building is fronted by a pair of grandiose columns and features decorative eaves and a pediment covered in corrugated cladding. It was dubbed the Temple of Storms by Outram.

The listing came just in time for Outram's birthday. He turned 83 on 21 June.

"The oldest architecture I ever visited was the painted caves of 20,000-year-old Lascaux," he said. "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," he continued. "My work has been a rebellion."

"I refused to live in a city designed by proudly sub-literate 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."

The pumping station is now one of the eight per cent of listed buildings to make it on the Grade II*- or Grade I-listed registers, which protect some of England's most architecturally and historically significant buildings.

One of just seven surviving works by Outram in Britain, the building presents some of the strongest characteristics of postmodernism – a referential architectural style from the late 20th century. Historic England expects many more examples of the style will eventually find themselves on the register.

"John Outram's pumping station was one of the most exciting buildings of the 1980s," said the organisation's Director of Listing, Roger Bowdler. "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 postmodern buildings find their place among England's finest works of architecture."

Another example of postmodernism – James Stirling and Michael Wilford's No 1 Poultry – is currently the youngest building to be listed. It was completed in 1998 and listed last year.

"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," said Historic England.

"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," it continued.

"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'."

In 2015, Dezeen published a series of studies on key buildings and design pieces from the postmodern movement – from Hans Hollein's volcano-shaped amusement park to the home American architect Robert Venturi designed for his mother in the late 1950s.