Saturday, 27 July 2013

Crystal Palace might rise from the ashes

The Crystal Palace was a milestone in architectural history but the Victorian original perished in a conflagration in 1936. It now seems that it might be recreated thanks to Chinese investment.

Designed for the 1851 Great Exhibition by Joseph Paxton the glass-and-steel original was located in London's Hyde Park. Its lofty, transparent halls hosted the many wonders that were brought from far and wide for what was arguably the event of the century. Even to the untrained eye, the building was a remarkable structure with its almost transparent walls and rooves. The science behind the engineering was equally innovative, for Crystal Palace employed modular design on a scale not previously seen. This step-and-repeat process, combined with new techniques of steel manufacture, was the thing which allowed the structure to be both so impressive and affordable.

It was always understood that the building would have to be moved once the Great Exhibition had closed its doors, and after some negotiation it was re-constructed at a location in South London (the area is now known simply as 'Crystal Palace' accordingly). The Palace proved lacking in its new home and failed to earn its keep as the years went by. Fire destroyed the structure in 1936 and the glow from the conflagration could be viewed from as many as eight neighboring counties. Since the ruins were demolished the site has had a troubled economic history, but the famous concrete dinosaurs (by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkings) which survived the fire still draw tourists and retro-paleontologists alike.

Today The Guardian newspaper has reported that Shanghai-based company wishes to create an exact replica of the Palace. However, it seems the project is in its early stages and the UK's notoriously strict planning laws (and all the associated local politics) might mean its years before the plans are approved. By then, the human race might have perished and concrete dinosaurs once again rule the earth.

Previous mention of the Palace in association with terrifying pterodactyls can be found here.

The Palace as it appeared in the Great Exhibition in 1851 at its original home in Hyde Park.

The same view of the Palace during the fire of 1936 in South London.

A photo I took in 2006 of some of the aquatic dinosaurs sculpted by Waterhouse Hawkins.