Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Crystal Palace: A source of Innovation and Inspiration

Following on from my work inspired by Smithfields Market, I've been researching other ironwork structures and have become somewhat obsessed with the Crystal Palace of late.

I discovered an amazing book "Delamotte's Crystal Palace" by Ian Leith which mainly centres around the Crystal Palace in its second incarnation after it was dismantled in Hyde Park at the end of the 1851 Great Exhibition and rebuilt in 1854 in Sydenham, Kent, as a much larger and permanent structure.

The Crystal Palace, 1851

©British Heritage The Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 1859 - taller and shorter in length than the original building, but with a greater volume using twice the amount of glass of its predecessor

Every page I turn I read another 'first' or an amazing fact about this era in History and the part the Crystal Palace played in it.  It inspired people to do great things; not all good, but it was primarily a time of dynamic innovation and invention.  It made me realise how small we have become, seeing obstacles rather than seeking solutions.  My new moto is to 'think like a Victorian' and to endeavour to try new things and be bolder when setting goals.  For instance, I would like to incorporate 3D printing into my Practice, (but as I already have done using Lasers), I'd like to experiment with this technology and produce new and less predictable outcomes than "Here is the design I did on the computer printed out into a 3D object".  It's good to have a goal and a challenge.

Joseph Paxton - 1st drawing plans for The Crystal Palace

The design for the Crystal Palace was by Joseph Paxton and was based on the glass houses he had constructed at Chatsworth.  Built off site and designed to be dismantled, it was in essence the first flat pack building ever made.

©Hulton-Deutsch/Corbis - the Victoria Regalia Lily which inspired Paxton's structural ideas for the Palace

©English Heritage - there was so much controversy surrounding the removal of this sequoia tree from California in 1853 to display in the Crystal Palace, that it brought about the conservation movement which created the National Parks in the USA.

©English Heritage - THE OLD AND THE NEW - Owen Jones's interpretation of the Alhambra Palace juxtasposed with Paxton's ironwork structure.  

The author George Elliot visited both the original Alhambra Palace in Granada and Owen Jones's recreation inside the Crystal Palace and proclaimed he thought the former was "vastly inferior".  Whilst I seriously doubt that, this and other accounts point to the quality of the exhibits at the Crystal Palace and it not being filled with tacky replicas of Egyptian temples and Greek statues that we would expect to see today in a similar enterprise.

©English Heritage - "The palace exhibited an almost complete anthology of classical and other sculpture which is only distantly echoed in the Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Though mostly copies, some original sculpture was also in evidence.  In effect this was a key reference collection which had been carefully selected and copied by Owen Jones and T H Wyatt.  In the foreground is the Venus de Milo from the Louvre, Paris"...(Ian Leith, Delamotte's Crystal Palace, P.71)

©A J Mason c.1925 - The 1936 fire destroyed most of the palace.  The water towers were demolished during 1941 because they were a conspicuous landmark for enemy planes - and the Railway Station (LHS) soon followed

The remains of the Crystal Palace after the fire on December 1st, 1936

In the book, the last chapter entitled "A Mythical End" gives an account of what might have been if events had been different.  Supposition aside, had the Crystal Palace survived today it would certainly have been afforded Grade 1 listed status, whereas at this present time the Crystal Palace Campaign are fighting against planning for a multiplex cinema to be erected on what was once the site of this extraordinary building.  How depressingly 21st century is that?

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