Building Series: The Lost Treasure

16 September, 2021

A Bird’s-Eye View of the Crystal Palace

The Victorian era was one of energy and optimism, fueled by the Industrial Revolution and Britain’s sense of superiority and world domination. The Crystal Palace was designed to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, featuring a mind-boggling 294,000 panes of glass.

The journey to completion was convoluted and hectic. A Building Committee invited design submissions on March 15, 1850. Its criteria? A simple, temporary building that was as cheap as possible and economical to build. They received 245 entries from all over the world and rejected them all.
That’s when well-known garden designer Joseph Paxton became interested and his proposal was chosen. And it was an excellent choice. His innovative cast iron and glass structure was built with blistering speed at London’s Hyde Park. An impressive 990,000 square feet, it housed 14,000+ exhibitors from around the world.

Particulars of The Crystal Palace design

  • Miraculously, Paxton started from scratch and finished in less than a year, on schedule and on budget. Wow! How often does that happen?
  • The shape and size of the palace was based on the largest panes of glass available at the time. That greatly reduced both cost and installation time.
  • The structure was essentially a shell supported by thin cast-iron columns and no internal structural walls. It required no artificial light during the day, which also reduced operating costs.
After the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace was disassembled and rebuilt on Sydenham Hill. The new building incorporated most of the construction elements of the Crystal Palace. Sad to say, the new structure was destroyed by fire on November 29, 1936.

A word about Joseph Paxton

Joseph Paxton had earned a stellar reputation as head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House. He designed innovative public gardens at Birkenhead Park—which influenced our own New York Central Park.
We hope you’ll join us on Thursday, October 14th for our next installment If you have a building, you’d like to nominate for coverage this link will take you to a page to make your nomination which can be anonymous, if you prefer.

The Lost Treasure

Name and location: The Crystal Palace
Style: Victorian
Architect: Joseph Paxton
Year completed: 1851