Gasometers, structures built to contain large volumes of combustible gas, began to appear in Britain in Victorian times. Thanks to their widespread diffusion in London throughout the 19th century, they quickly became an integral part of the urban landscape. Following the discovery of natural gas reserves in the North Sea in 1965, technology evolved to such an extent that these structures became obsolete. Thus, most of the local networks were converted. In 1999, finally, came the decision to dismantle these urban elements.
In the Greater London area alone there are over 20 gasometers left. Over time these have become the background for scenes of everyday life, as well as prominent elements of London’s urban landscape.
With the series Ruin or Rust the architectural photographer Francesco Russo, who lives and works in London, aims to tell the fate of these structures. For more than two years now, Russo has been investigating their imposing presence, their role in the urban fabric and the metropolitan city. In fact, already half of the approximately 40 gasometers present in the English metropolis have been demolished in recent years, threatened by the increased value of the occupied land and speculation. From here the photographer’s questions: “will these sentinels of the industrial age be missed? Will these scientific and architectural icons find a new function in our age? Are they ruin or rust?”
King’s Cross gasometers, for example, are a possible model of how to reuse this type of structure. In this case three metal cylinders have been redeveloped into luxury residential units, and one has been transformed into a public green area.
Francesco Russo is a photographer based in London and Venice, specialising in architecture, interior design and the built environment. He is co-founder of Mass a London-based collective of Photographers documenting the built environment.