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Chinese plan for Crystal Palace revival aims to emulate fast-tracked Olympic delivery

An ambitious £500M plan to rebuild Crystal Palace in newly restored parkland in south London aims to emulate an Olympics style delivery method so it can be delivered as early as 2018, it was revealed last week.

Consultant Arup has worked up the early details of the scheme for Chinese investor ZhongRong Group.

They centre on a reimagined 500m and 50m tall, steel and glass building akin to the proportions of the 490m long and 51m tall Crystal Palace that stood on the site until it burned down in 1936.

It also includes a hotel and conference facilities, galleries and other commercial space.

The project team aims to submit a planning application by autumn next year, with construction starting on site in 2015.

It is hoped the new Palace will open within the restored 73ha park in 2018.

Arup director Jerome Frost, who masterminded the masterplanning of the 2012 Olympic venues said that the scheme faced a “really challenging timetable”.

“This is the starting point,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do before construction can start. With a fair wind the planning application will be submitted this time next year and it could be on site possibly by December 2015.”

Frost told NCE that the tight delivery timetable bore a resemblance to that of the London 2012 Olympics. For this, construction of the main venues at the Olympic Park took, around three years.

“The nearest comparison might well be the Olympics,” he said. “While that was, of course, a degree more complex, to an extent that’s what we are benchmarking against [in planning and delivering] major projects.”

The new scheme follows a previously stalled attempt to regenerate the park which included a provision to sell off some of the parkland to allow for construction of 180 apartments.

This began in 2006 when the now abolished London Development Agency commissioned landscape architect Latz & Partner to lead on developing a landscape masterplan for the park (see box).

Frost said that elements such as gardens and a café would be drawn from the existing masterplan for the stalled scheme but emphasised that the most controversial element - the housing - had been taken out.

That earlier plan anticipated that demolition and construction works would be undertaken in a series of phases across the site over a period of between 15 and 20 years.

A completion date of 2028 was assumed in the earlier scheme’s environmental impact assessment, although this said that the construction sequence could not be set because of uncertainty about when funding could be secured.

Frost, who worked as head of design and regeneration for London 2012, said: “There are few projects that can emulate what happened in East London [for the Olympics]. But this one can.”

The building and the park had been “conceived of together” and the scheme offered an opportunity for London to build on experiences elsewhere and cited the Grand Palais in Paris and its refurbishment as an example of a project that London should try to emulate at Crystal Palace.

He added that it was vital that a “great British architect” lead the project. There are several listed structures in the park and the new scheme aims to restore its Victorian heritage, including Italian style terraces an underpass and a maze.

ZhongRong Group will appoint the architect and chairman Ni Zhaoxing said he had over 10 years’ experience of investing in glass and steel structures and had already constructed a £1bn glass structure 600m long and 50m wide in China.

“How can we restore the former glory of Crystal Palace?” he asked. “This is my purpose. To pass on something to the next generation - I’m planting a tree in Crystal Palace Park so that local residents can enjoy its shade. We must make the building and the park work together organically.”

London mayor Boris Johnson welcomed the proposals at the launch event in London last week.

“This is a vision that could not only see a world class landmark building reinstated, of the quality of the original, but the restoration of the entire surrounding park, bringing jobs and growth,” he said.

Johnson will now chair an advisory board to steer the project through detailed design and planning.

The board will also include the Prince of Wales’ special adviser Hank Dittmar, Eden Project co-founder Sir Tim Smit and London Design Festival chairman Sir John Sorrell.


False start precedes launch of latest redevelopment idea

Failed plan: The previous proposal did not include a plans to rebuild the palace building but did include housing

Failed plan: The previous proposal did not include a plans to rebuild the palace building but did include housing

The original Crystal Palace was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park.

In 1854 it was expanded and relocated south London, prompting the area to take on the structure’s name.

The palace was the largest glass structure in the world before fire destroyed it in 1936.

Much of the original site is unused by the public but small-scale and temporary events have been staged in one area.

In 1999 the park was awarded £4.4M from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore 40% of the landscape and infrastructure, but the London Borough of Bromley was unable to push ahead with the scheme without “significant investment” in infrastructure.

In recent years the park has suffered from what the council saw as a fragmentation of the landscape, loss of views and parkland quality as a result of developments like the National Sports Centre.

In 2006, the now defunct London Development Agency commissioned landscape architect Latz & Partner to lead the development of a landscape masterplan for the park. It came up with a plan for a metropolitan park with cultural, leisure, educational and recreational elements.

The architect worked with structural engineer Jane Wernick Associates, architect Meadowcroft Griffin, transport planning consultant Steer Davies Gleave, consultant Waterman Environmental, energy and sustainability consultant ZEF and cost consultant Davis Langdon among others. The LDA commissioned consultant URS to develop a business case for the planning application.

The masterplan applications for planning permission, Conservation Area Consent and Listed Building Consent were submitted in November 2007.

But in 2012 a simplified 10 point plan, which excluded reference to housing provision was adapted to the consultation responses and focused on restoring the park.



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