The Crystal Palace

-Designed by Joseph Paxton


The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure originally built in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in its 990,000-square-foot (92,000 m2) exhibition space to display examples of technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m).

The huge, modular, wood, glass and iron structure was originally erected in Hyde Park in London to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, which showcased the products of many countries throughout the world.

Paxton’s modular, hierarchical design reflected his practical brilliance as a designer and problem-solver. It incorporated many breakthroughs, offered practical advantages that no conventional building could match and, above all, embodied the spirit of British innovation and industrial might that the Great Exhibition was intended to celebrate.

The geometry of the Crystal Palace was a classic example of the concept of form following function – the shape and size of the whole building was directly based around the size of the panes of glass (measuring 10 inches wide by 49 inches long) made by the supplier, Chance Brothers of Smethwick.

The entire building was scaled around those dimensions, it meant that nearly the whole outer surface could be glazed using millions of identical panes, thereby drastically reducing both their production cost and the time needed to install them.

A huge open gallery ran along the main axis, with wings extending down either side. The main exhibition space was two stories high, with the upper floor stepped in from the boundary. Most of the building had a flat-profile roof, except for the central transept, which was covered by a 72 foot wide barrel-vaulted roof that stood 168 feet high at the top of the arch.

Paxton’s roofing system incorporated his elegant solution to the problem of draining the building’s vast roof area.


The Great Exhibition of 1851

The Great Exhibition was opened on 1 May 1851 by  Queen Victoria. It was the first of the World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry. There were some 100,000 objects, displayed along more than ten miles, by over 15,000 contributors. Britain occupied half the display space inside with exhibits from the home country and the Empire. France was the largest foreign contributor. The exhibits were grouped into four main categories—Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufacturers and Fine Arts. The exhibits ranged from the Koh-i-Noor diamond, Sevres porcelain and music organs to a massive hydraulic press and a fire-engine. There was also a 27-foot tall Crystal Fountain.

The Crystal Palace had the first major installation of public toilets, the Retiring Rooms, in which sanitary engineer George Jennings installed his “Monkey Closet” flushing lavatory(initially just for men, but later catering for women also).  During the exhibition, 827,280 visitors each paid one penny to use them (from which originated the euphemism “spending a penny”).



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