The allure of the Crystal palace, London lies in our imagination. All the splendor and magnificence we know in the crystal palace are through illustrations, books, and articles. Since we can no longer experience space, we can only imagine what the building looked like in its heyday. The Crystal Palace was an apt edifice for capturing the nuance of the Great Exhibition, which showed the breadth of the British Empire and its progress in industrial technology

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Top view of Crystal palace ©

The Great Exhibition | Crystal Palace London 

An international exposition showcases various industrial, scientific, and cultural products at a given location for a certain length of time, generally three to six months.

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exposition des produits de l’industrie française ©
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1889 exhibition in paris ©

On the occasion of King Leopold II’s coronation in 1791, Prague, Bohemia staged one of the earliest industrial exhibits, while Paris, France hosted L’Exposition des produits de l’industrie française in 1798. 

Nonetheless, the great exhibition was one of the first to be held on a worldwide scale, with exhibits from various nations on display, and one of the first international expositions to come under the Bureau of International des Expositions (BIE).

The Crystal Palace set the bar for how an exhibition should be organized. The subsequent exhibition used a similar exposition strategy, relying on glasshouses as a temporary structure. The Crystal Palace left a massive legacy. It was a commercial success, and global fairs were organized in the future. Between 1880 and World War I, almost 40 international expositions were conducted in places as diverse as Australia, Guatemala, and Hanoi.

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illustration of the transept of the Crystal Palace ©

 Queen Victoria described the exhibition as “one of the greatest and most glorious of our lives, and which, to my pride and joy, the name of my dearly beloved Albert is forever associated.”

And in the newspaper, a sight the like of which has never happened before, and which, in the nature of things, can never be repeated“.

Joseph Paxton

A royal committee led by Prince Albert organized the exhibition and launched a building design competition. The commissioners, however, ultimately rejected all the proposals. They published their design, which was heavily criticized. Later, Joseph Paxton published his design ideas in illustration news in London, which gained public attention. The committee chose Joseph Paxton’s design because it met the criteria. A temporary structure that could be easily erected quickly, and its modular design allowed for easier coordination of a large workforce employed. The Crystal Palace, Paxton’s iron-and-glass edifice, captivated the crowd and undoubtedly contributed to the exhibition’s success.

Here is a copy of Paxton’s original concept for the structure, which he reportedly scrawled down on a pink blotting paper while attending a Midland Railway board meeting. 

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Joseph Paxton’s conceptual sketch ©
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Joseph Paxton’s inspiration for the design of The Crystal Palace ©

Paxton had previously designed similar glasshouse structures and had contacts with Chance Brothers for plate glass and railway contractors who built the framework out of cast iron, which aided in the quick completion of the Crystal Palace within six months.

Aftermath of exhibition | Crystal Palace London 

The structure was supposed to be dismantled after the exhibition, and the committee was adamant about it. 

However, seeing the affection many Londoners had for the building, Paxton tried everything he could to keep it open as a Winter Garden and park and was able to get a stay of dismantling until May 1852, when Fox & Henderson were ordered to take down the building and began looking for takers for several thousand tonnes of glass and scrap metal. The Crystal Palace Company was formed because of funds raised to keep the Crystal Palace as a feature in Hyde Park, and they had to raise enough funds to buy the structure and rebuild it at another site.

Rebuilding Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill

The CPC chose a 389-acre site on Sydenham Hill in southeast London, which was significantly larger than the old one. The structure was also much larger than the original. Paxton took advantage of the opportunity for a redesign, resulting in a far more intricate and impressive structure on his new site.  The central transept was taller, there were five tiers instead of three, the building was longer, taller, and wider, and it included one smaller transept on each side.

The End Of An Age

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Spread of fire in Crystal palace ©

When you visit Crystal Palace today, you will find only hints of what it was like a century ago. Sphinxes, steps, pillars, terraces, and arches can be found at the northern end. 

Sir Henry Buckland, the manager, was doing his rounds around 7 p.m. on November 30, 1936. He was walking through the palace with his daughter, Chrystal when he noticed a small fire at the Sydenham end of the palace. “Father saw the fire’s flickering light and told me to run through to warn the choir,” she recalls. As I did so, I noticed a blue flash running along the floor”.

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Ruins of Crystal palace ©

While the cause of the fire will never be determined, the fact that it spread so quickly is largely due to the wooden flooring. The breeze helped to fan the flames because we were at the top of a large hill.

Iron melts at around 1500 degrees Celsius. The glass melts at a similar temperature but is more prone to cracking or shattering before reaching that point. According to the footage of the survived fire, the iron frames became weak with the heat, buckled, and lost their stability due to the glass fracturing.

Ruins of Crystal palace ©

As Winston Churchill rightly said after viewing the ruin of the palace as the end of an era”.

Present scenario | Crystal Palace London 

Old statue located on the grounds of the old Crystal Palace ©Magnus D. Flickr
© Ian Wright

Only the foundations, a few stairwells guarded by an ancient sphinx, and some internal foundation stones remain. Over time, the surrounding area became known as Crystal Palace. The Italianate terraces and the park’s famous dinosaur statues are all that remain today.

There is debate about replicating Crystal Palace; a competition was launched, and a few firms submitted their works for it, which led to a controversial issue in London; however, the question is, what is lost can it be restored? It would serve no purpose today and would be a past gimmick. Let crystal palace be reminiscent of the past.


Crystal Palace (n.d.). Crystal Palace – [online] Available at: (Accessed: February 25, 2023).

Furnival, A. (2014) The Crystal Palace: Brief history of a lost building, Another Studio. [online] Available at: (Accessed: February 25, 2023). 

Sir Joseph Paxton (no date) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.[online] Available at: (Accessed: February 25, 2023). 

The Crystal Palace Fire (no date) London Fire Brigade. [online] Available at: (Accessed: February 25, 2023). 

ARTnews, T.E.of (2019) A timeline of attempts to fix the art world,[online] Available at: (Accessed: February 25, 2023). 

Paris 1900 : L’exposition Universelle (2019) YouTube. [YouTube] Available at: (Accessed: February 25, 2023). 

Hiltz, M. (2022) What’s more spooky- the fact that no one knows how the Crystal Palace burned down or its remains?, abandonedspaces.[online]Available at: (Accessed: February 25, 2023). 


Amrutha is an architect and designer based in Bangalore. She is a voracious reader and believes that architecture is similar to a narrative that slowly unfolds in time and space. As an avid traveller she finds thrill in serendipitous encounters.