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New Glass Structure for Crystal Palace Park
Press Release November 2003
(Architect and Image Maker - Wilkinson Eyre Architects)

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Plans for a 150m long glass palace in the sky, the first new building on the site of the old Crystal Palace since it burnt down in 1936, have been revealed by award-winning architect Wilkinson Eyre. The scheme, set in what would be the only dedicated sculpture park in the capital, aims to restore Crystal Palace to its position as an internationally renowned, cultural focal point for London.

Wilkinson Eyre was approached by the Crystal Palace Campaign committee, the organisation created in opposition to proposals for a multiplex scheme on the site, to submit proposals for a Sculpture Park. Its design realizes the brief by combining a sculpture park with an iconic building made of glass. Elevated 54m above Crystal Palace Park in South London and providing London's skyline with a new landmark, the £45 million glass structure marks a sensitive response to a site coloured by its architectural past. Funding for the project will be sought through fundraising, corporate sponsorship and grants.

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Respecting the heritage of Joseph Paxton's visionary palace of glass, Wilkinson Eyre has designed an arts venue that will float above what is the highest tree-lined ridge in London. The design, occupying the space of the transept of the original palace, is the same height, and follows the same line of its transverse aisle and yet retains the open space of the Grade II* listed parkland in its entirety. It responds to the legacy of Crystal Palace, a seminal building of the Victorian age at the cusp of engineering and architecture, with a major architectural intervention as audacious and technologically advanced as was its predecessor in its time.

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

The two storey building, crossing the width of the site at a length of 150m, will be constructed entirely of glass. Glass sculptural ribs will support a laminated glass grid shell of minimal structure, with only the decks within the enclosed space supported by steelwork. An intelligent skin of photovoltaic cells encapsulated in the glass provides solar shading while also collecting solar energy to electrically power the building. Vent-like louvres or 'gills' on the underside will control natural ventilation and, with the recycling of rainwater, the result will be a truly sustainable building.

A moving stairway, the longest in the world, will lift visitors high above the park and the tree line into a 4,500m2 exhibition space for changing displays. A mezzanine level will sit above with restaurants and bars.

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

A destination icon, visible across London both day and night, the glass building will provide a unique opportunity to view the best of modern sculpture against the sky but also an important new venue from which to view London and the Kentish Downs laid out beneath.

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Through working closely with the Crystal Palace Campaign committee, Wilkinson Eyre's vision addresses the architectural imperatives of the site and yet considers the implications of its contemporary local context. A community-wide survey distributed amongst 40,000 households established that the site should remain a park but that a cultural building was desired.

Achieving both criteria, the floating arts building retains the parkland as green open space and reflects this sense of openness within its very structure. With the focus on height not mass, Wilkinson Eyre has responded with a solution that is equal in its architectural vision and yet avoids the temptation to dwarf its surroundings, the area taken up being just 10% of the original Crystal Palace. With support from Philip Kolvin of the Crystal Palace Campaign and in his words, "it achieves the unique feat of creating impact without encroachment".

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Despite being an international centre for the arts, London lacks a venue dedicated to sculpture. Wilkinson Eyre's vision for a Sculpture Park draws upon the unrivalled collections of statues that stood in the parklands surrounding the Crystal Palace and will provide an opportunity for new art installations and exhibitions. The Sculpture Park itself will forge strong links with the community as a place for participation, training, play and life-long learning and will attract international artists to work in a world class setting for sculpture-based arts.

Sculpture courts will spread out along the site underneath the elevated building, reflecting the courts of Paxton's palace and orientating visitors through the extensive landscape. New tree-planting and landscaping will reinforce the original palace's central axis through the park and the remaining original terracing and stairs will be extensively restored.

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Wilkinson Eyre has designed an arts venue for the 21st century that will renew this long-neglected landscape, returning Crystal Palace Park to international repute. Pushing boundaries in the same way that Paxton's Crystal Palace came to define architectural modernity for a century or more, the Sculpture Park with its floating glass palace will restore Crystal Palace as a place in the cultural heritage of the nation with a building that will be the first of its kind.

Image by Wilkinson Eyre Architects

About Wilkinson Eyre

Wilkinson Eyre Architects is the winner of the 2001 and 2002 RIBA Stirling Prize, the highly prestigious annual award, for its Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, Yorkshire (2001) and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (2002).

The practice, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week, has many years experience of working with museums and galleries to provide new, or redevelop existing, cultural spaces. It has worked for the Science Museum on the Challenge of Materials Gallery, Making of the Modern World gallery and the masterplan and ground floor fit out of the Wellcome Wing. The practice won the 2001 Stirling Prize for Magna, a science adventure centre housed in a redundant steelworks in south Yorkshire. In 2000, it completed Explore @Bristol, an exploratory science centre within a listed 1903 Hennebique concrete GWR Goods Shed near the waterfront in Bristol. The practice is currently working on the National Waterfront Museum Swansea, a pivotal scheme within plans to regenerate the maritime quarter of Swansea, and the redevelopment of the Museum of London, the first phase of which was opened in October of this year.

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