So Transparent: London's iconic Crystal Palace reloaded
One of most iconic architectural structures of the 19th century – London’s legendary Crystal Palace – is being reborn, with a host of international starchitects in the running to rethink it. Leading materials consultancy MATERIALS COUNCIL investigates the exciting possibilities this landmark project offers in terms both of material innovation and of cutting-edge building technologies.
Illustrative visualisation of the new Crystal Palace masterplan, on its original South London site (top) and view of the terrace (above)
Last October Chinese developer ZhongRong Group announced their intention to rebuild the iconic Crystal Palace, originally built for Britain’s 1851 Great Exhibition – an international expo of industry and culture from the country’s vast empire and beyond. Initially billed as a faithful reconstruction of the original structure, the group, in the face of criticism from both the public and the architectural community, later tendered a competition to create a 'spiritual successor'.
Materials Council decided to explore, in advance of the winner being announced, how the requirements specified by the original design committee, the original building’s design innovations, and contemporary glazing and material technologies could inform a modern-day interpretation of the Crystal Palace.
The Leadenhall building's steel mega-frame during construction
The original Crystal Palace, erected in Hyde Park, London, was a radical architectural advancement. It was designed by Joseph Paxton after an unsuccessful competition to find a suitable design satisfying the building committee's key specifications. They stipulated that the building be:
• as cheap as possible
• economical to build in less than a year before the already scheduled exhibition
It has been regarded as marking the start of architectural modernity, trumpeted by Le Corbusier as the ‘herald of a new age’, and is arguably the progenitor of the ‘High Tech’ architecture of Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, et al.
The Crystal Palace was a paradigm shift. Not only in what an architectural space could be but also the design concepts, engineering and construction processes required to successfully realise a building of an entirely new materiality and subject to unprecedented constraints.
Dosu's glass panel, thermobimetal shuttering system. The 'smart metal' curls when heated, modulating solar admission