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Crystal Palace Revived - A new exhibition building in Sydenham

Part 1 Project 2010
Jennifer Bull
Kingston University Kingston | UK
Sydenham Hill was once one of the most celebrated areas in London. For 82 years, Sir Joseph Paxton’s cast-iron and glass modular exhibition building stood atop the Hill, within what is now known as Crystal Palace Park. Originally constructed to house the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, The Crystal Palace was subsequently moved and modified to suit the following site in Sydenham, to a new public space with nationwide focus.

Since 1936, when the Palace was entirely destroyed by fire, little more than legacy has been left behind. The original footprint has, over time moulded into the haphazard nature of Crystal Palace Park, nevertheless, it bids an opportunity for the revived Palace, an exciting contemporary exhibition building both in tribute to Paxton and a return to the public hub for the park, suburb and city.

At Bromley’s periphery, encircled by four other London boroughs, the park is now thought of as one of London’s most historically important open public spaces, engraved out of the suburban realm. The revived Palace responds to both the magnitude scale of the park, as well as its opposite dense suburban edge, providing a site-specific architectural transition from one extent to the other.

Developed as a successor to the Paxton Palaces, the revived Palace brings historic legacy into contemporary approach. The modular public infrastructure covers the 55,500m2 original footprint and reacts to the declining landscape from street to park with an innovative response to its precedents’ cross section and analysis of the park as found today. The structural module stemmed from Paxton example and provides a low-tech, sustainable and simple structural logical, applied at different scales to enable flexible purpose.

From an international exposition, to the community buzz of the local Saturday market, the revived Palace adapts for use, offering an exhibition building for the future, whilst responding illustriously to its most significant existing surroundings and historical roots.

Jennifer Bull

The Crystal Palace was one of the largest buildings ever. Originally designed by Joseph Paxton as a temporary structure for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, the giant modular structure was eventually relocated to Sydenham Hill as a Winter Palace with permanent exhibition, re-opening in 1854. It stood for 85 years before it was destroyed by fire in 1936.

Today, the site is a blank rectangle on the A-Z Street Atlas, but hidden between blackberry canes one can still find remains of the former palace, such as column bases. Most of the original infrastructure is still in place, or could be repaired easily, which makes the site predestined to be re-used by a building of equal size. The brief proposed an exhibition building, comparable to its predecessor in Hyde Park, which would form an equilateral triangle with London‘s other exhibition venues Earl‘s Court/Olympia and Excel.

The student’s proposal traces the original footprint of the Sydenham Palace, but unlike its predecessors, the project does not suggest any transept. Instead it offers a central public space, breaking down the vast building into two at the intersection of Crystal Palace Parade and Paxton Axis. Inside it offers a grand space with three open terraces for temporary exhibitions, each of which are serviced separately by concealed lorry access.

As a consequence of the irregular remains of the stair, the plan is asymmetrical recalling the famous Hyde Park building. The project also interprets its predecessor in response to the sloping topography of the site – the iconic stepped short-section of Hyde Park is bisected and inverted, so that the proposal steps both up and down to a tall and slender vessel that addresses the scale of the park. Retractable façade panels enable the structure to transcend its everyday function to form a large weathered public space between town and park, providing shelter for different programmes under its translucent cover.

Conceived as a low-tech palace made from prefabricated engineered timber, and fitted with a minimum of domestic services, the project forms a contemporary response to the current economic downturn and the pressing issues around sustainability.

Matthew Barnett Howland
Peter Karl Becher
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