The Revival style which were structurally efficient.

The Crystal Palace, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton and built in 1851, was
a huge iron and glass structure built for the Great Exhibition showcasing art
and technology developed during the Industrial Revolution. Held in Hyde Park,
London, the palace became a national symbol throughout the Victorian and
Edwardian period and was the first biggest public building to be made of iron
and glass. It was the world’s first theme park which offered many services such
as entertainment, education, cricket matches, attracting over 2 million
visitors a year. It was one of the most innovative buildings of the 19th
century and was deemed as an icon of modern architecture that moved away from
traditional construction materials and methods.


Figure 1 The interior of the Crystal
Palace, showcasing the revolutionary and innovative technology that changed
architecture in the Industrial Revolution.

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The Industrial Revolution created new structural possibilities and yet
controversy arose from the technological advances that were being introduced.

On one hand, the use of pre-fabricated materials that could be mass produced was
revolutionary and would eventually replace Classicism as well as the Gothic
style, but on the other hand, using traditional materials would continue to
represent the Classical tradition.  The
evolution of building technology allowed architects to move away from symbolism
and create new and innovative works. John Ruskin and William Morris created the
Arts and Crafts movement and were heavily against the idea of the modern
architectural approach.


Britain was the ‘workshop of the world’ (Beaver 1970) and the increasing
use of iron and the rise of neo-classical architecture influenced industrial
building design from 1835-1855. The first buildings to utilise iron in their
designs was the Charles Fowler’s Conservatory at Syon House, which featured a
glazed dome and the Palm House in Kew Gardens. It was built in the Renaissance
and Gothic Revival style which were structurally efficient. Joseph Paxton, who
specialised in designing glasshouses, came up with a ridge and furrow system
consisting of glass and wood to cover the glasshouses and later built the Great
Stove whose central nave spanned 70ft. These pieces of work showed how larger
spaces could be covered without an ‘internal confusion of columns and
buttresses’ (Jones 1985). ‘The story of iron was largely a technical one,
telling of a gradual revolution in building method, while neo-classicism,
dominated by academically educated architects, was most conspicuous in halls
and governments office’ (Jones, 1985).


Figure 2 The Great Stove in Chatsworth
designed by Paxton. He used this design and repeated elements in the Crystal


The idea of a grand exhibition space was proposed in 1849 by Prince
Albert, aiming to cover 800,000 square feet in order to exhibit all items from
around the world whilst accommodating tens of thousands of people. This called
for proposals for a temporary structure to be put forward, giving them just 13
months for planning and construction as the opening would commence on 1st
May 1851 as decided by Queen Victoria. Over 200 entries were put forward
however they were all deemed to be unsuitable.


Paxton became interested in the proposal, having specialised in
glasshouse design for 20 years. The use of timber eventually moved onto glass
due to the cost and lower maintenance it required. The Building Committee
believed that Paxton’s design was simple, yet bold and elegant. Having less
than a year to design the Great Exhibition and with the help of railway
engineer Charles Fox, he proposed to use the materials used in the Great Stove
using the successful ridge-and-furrow technique again.


Figure 3 Paxton’s first sketch of his
proposal for the scheme that repeated the technology used for his previous work
at the Great Stove.

Paxton’s design was based around the geometry and size of the largest
glass sheet available at that time, a 10in x 49in unit by the supplier Chance
Brothers of Smethwick. Most glass was made by blowing and spinning molten
glass, making the size very limited during the 1560s when commercial
glassmaking was introduced. However, a new technique was created in 1832, which
made it possible to make bigger panes and plate glass windows without glazing
bars. The geometry of the building was a classic example of the concept of form
following the supplier’s limitations. 
The pre-fabricated system comprised of right angled triangle which were
mirrored and multiplied, supported by a grid of 564m long cast iron beams and
pillars. Its light weight nature of the glass enabled Paxton to reduce the size
of the glazing sashes and supporting structure. It was further enhanced by his
ridge-and-furrow glazing system which reduced the span of the sash bars. The
iron frame work required no scaffolding to be erected due to his efficient
construction innovation.


Figure 4 Section of the elevation and
floor plan.


The Palace, 124m wide and 562m long, was a remarkable construction of
cast-iron building technology, consisting of prefabricated parts which were
easy to erect. This was a technological triumph of the Victorian age. The units
were self supporting, meaning that workers could easily assemble the pieces. From
the 1st May to 11th October, the Palace received over 6
million visitors. The extraordinary steel structure stimulated the growth of
more ambitious designs. Completed in less than 9 months, the simple
construction method established a clear architectural standard for
international exhibitions with immediate descendants being the Cork Exhibition
of 1852 and the Centre Pompidou. Paxton’s design created opportunities for new
architectural innovations; thinner and stronger steel beams. Many English
designers saw glass and iron buildings as a means of constructing large areas
quickly and cheaply.


Paxton’s design was influenced by his passion for bio mimicry where he
was inspired by the giant leaves of the Victoria Amazonica water lily and later
cited the plant as a key inspiration for his design. His design was a magnified
version of the lily-house at Chatsworth, featuring a curtain wall system that
allowed vertical bays to be hung from cantilevered beams. His was the first to
succeed in producing the first Amazonica flowers to be grown in England,
despite an attempt to grow them in Kew Gardens had failed. It had leaves that
were 2m in diameter which Paxton was astounded; it had a structure so strong
that it could hold the weight of his daughter. The construction, acted as a
self supporting shell that maximised interior space whilst the glass cover allowed
daylight to seep through.


Britain had led the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition
demonstrated Britain’s success in the 19th century. The idea of the
Exhibition was created in order to celebrate industrial technology and design
as well as allowing Britain to show the world of its success as industrial
leaders. The Exhibition revealed that through technology, Europe could look
forward to a better future as they had struggled socially and politically for
20 years. The Great Exhibition held 100,000 objects from all over the world.

The 4 ton Follett Osler’s Crystal Fountain occupied the place of honour was
classed as the most beautiful item in the collection and was specially designed
for the Great Exhibition. It soon became a place for gathering before it got
damaged by the Great Fire. It held goods such as clocks, adornments, thrones in
ivory and zebra wood, marble and metal statuary and many other extraordinary


Figure 5 The Crystal Fountain

After the Great Exhibition closed, there was a lot of question as to
what would happen to the Crystal Palace and what it would become. Paxton had
the intention of turning the Palace into a Winter Garden and Park. Sydenham
Hill was later the choice of site for the Palace to be re-erected, giving it
one of the finest views of London as it was situated at the top of the hill.

The now Winter Garden and Park was slightly larger than the Hyde Park
structure. Using these pre-fabricated materials allowed the Palace to be moved
to Sydenham later on in 1852-4, where it was reassembled.


Figure 6 The Crystal Palace was re-erected
at Sydenham Hill at a larger scale.

There were less restraints on Paxton in terms of surrounding
architecture and refinement of spaces due to the large open spaces on site. The
building remained the same, however with the addition of a basement due to the
site sloping towards the East, the roof vaulted from one side to the other and
two new wings. Owen Jones was heavily involved with designing the interior of
the building. He was inspired by the tile work that was seen at the Alhambra,
particularly concentrating on contemporary developments in mosaics and
tessellated pavements. His designs attracted the key figures associated with
Victorian design reform. Islamic art allowed him to adopt develop a new vision
for architecture. His colour theories were introduced to the public, utilising
the primary colours; blue, red and yellow. His advocacy of Islamic art as a
model for modern designers was a noticeable feature of his work as a design
educator in the following decade, reflecting the design of the V Museum.


Figure 7 The interior of the Palace in

The Sydenham Palace was a huge success however it was never profitable
due to the high maintenance cost that it incurred. Two new rail line were
installed, preventing the huge amounts of traffic that arose in the area. The
status of the Palace started to decrease towards the end of the century as
lifestyles changed and other services became available.


The Palace was heavily damaged by strong winds in 1851 and in 1866, a
fire broke out which destroyed the North end of the building along with many
natural history exhibits. Despite the thousands of visitors that came to visit,
the Palace could no longer be maintained due to the sheer size of it and by
1911, the Palace was declared bankrupt. A trust was set up soon later on. In
1936, a huge fire broke out across the building destroying the majority of the
palace. All that was left the morning after of the building that was once known
as ‘a symbol of universal happiness and brotherhood of mystical significant’
was a skeleton framework of the building. The towers that survived were later
demolished in 1941 as they were deemed a visible landmark for incoming German
bombers.  With the architecture gone, its
presence remains in the large plinth and portions of the balustrade that sits
at the top of the park. ‘The destruction caused to the Palace portended the end
of the age old system of values, attitudes and morals already being undermined
in the 1930s.’ (p146 Beaver 1970) The Palace’s short existence was the most
significant period of history in Europe.


Figure 8 Damaged caused to the Palace by
the Great Fire

The Crystal Palace is a building that has ‘sprouted from the soil of
age’ despite it’s traditional origin (Stern 1988). He did not replicate Renaissance
or Gothic elements although some of his decisions were informed through them,
even if they were using new technology to create them. The Palace does not
reference the Classical orders, however the symmetrical plan and elevations
with evenly placed stories and the barrel vaulted nave, all suggested it was a
piece of Modern Classicism work. Many similarities can be seen with the Roman
basilica, such as the Emperor Constantine. Even though Paxton introduced new
materials to the building, he wanted emphasise the fact that the Palace was a
grand public area that would be a temporary exhibition space of mass produced
objects, and so used the Roman paradigm to achieve this. It can be said that
after this monumental point in history, many architects used the ever-expanding
technology to create buildings at a bigger scale, moving away from traditional
theories and ‘accommodating the new program of a democratic society within a
historical framework whilst adopting a synthesising and syncretic approach,
reasserting their belief in Classicism as a living architectural language.’ (Stern


Despite little decoration, the Palace had some features that had similar
effects of ornamentation.  The structural
components were reflected as opposed to linear, mimicking Renaissance and
Gothic details of the moulded column capitals and bases. The window bays that
were made up of arches and pendants as well as the lattice work used on the
interior were both structural and decorative. The adaptability of the
experience was successful, achieved through the light and transparency of the
glass facades and roof.


Figure 9 Sectional view of galleries


Iron columns were positioned eight feet apart, connected by a metal arch
and overcome by a louvered ventilation panel that were Renaissance motifs found
in many Roman and Florentine palaces. The concept of the building structure was
influenced by the Gothic Revival; the cast iron columns were slender and worked
more effectively than masonry in terms of compression. They looked similar to
the colonettes found in the piers of many Gothic Cathedral.


After the scheme was completed, there was a lot of opposition against
the design. Many clergymen claimed that it was an ‘arrogant scheme’ and ‘in
flying in face of God, was likely to call forth this wrath’ (p21 Beaver
1970).  The Crystal Palace incorporated
exceptional engineering and design standards, claiming the ‘purest and most
perfect architectural expression of plan and function’ (Jenner, 1998) and
questioned whether it was more a work of engineering however many architects
such as Pugin and Ruskin, who designed within the boundaries of traditional
styles, condemned the use of glass and iron, labelling it as ‘a glass monster’
and ‘a cucumber frame between two chimneys’. They believed that these
technological advances were dishonest and ornamental features and durability,
two features of good architecture, were lacking from this design. Ruskin believed
the seven lamps of architecture were sacrifice, power, life, beauty, truth,
memory and obedience and wanted to preserve the heart of architecture before
the technological advances would destroy them. It was important for him and
other architects to preserve this architecture as it was ‘the spirit of
honourable, proud, peaceful self-possession, this abiding wisdom of contended
life which one source of intellectual power’.


Many argued it was a model for the evolution of Victorian architecture
but many architects believed it exposed the gap between architecture and
technology claiming that ‘it is not architecture; it is engineering of the
highest merit and excellence.’ Throughout the 19th century, it was
mutually agreed that buildings should incorporate and celebrate ornamentations
as this defined its status within the area. Ornamentation came in many forms,
from the Classical orders, and that due to its lack of decoration, it was not
successful in demonstrating its power to the world. By the mid 19th
century, iron was later accepted by many architects and engineers and used a
structural and ornamental component.


It is clear that Paxton’s creation was a huge turning point in the 19th
century for architecture around the world in its attempt to create traditional
architecture with the invention of new technology and materials which derived
from his own greenhouse construction. He found a new style of architecture,
merging the Renaissance and Gothic traditions, which inspired many architects
to follow suit.