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Return to Crystal Palace shows little has changed

ICE news

A SELL-OUT audience packed the Smeaton Room at the ICE for a day-long conference last week on the Crystal Palace structure, built for the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Engineers, architects, historians and members of the public heard 10 papers from an international panel of experts on an occasion which developed almost into a festival of celebration of one of the most spectacular engineering feats of the Victorian Age.

The magnificent structure of iron, glass and timber was built to house the 1851 Grand Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, and sparked a genre of similar buildings to house industrial exhibitions across the world from Munich to Oporto to New York.

Designed by architect Joseph Paxton and engineered by Sir Charles Fox, both of whom were knighted for their work, the building received 6M visitors before closing its doors after six months.

Paxton bought the building and land to re-house it in Sydenham Hill, South London, where Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed 80m high deep-foundation twin water towers for new water features in the structure, capable of carrying 1.3M litres a minute. It was reopened in 1854.

But despite its popularity, the building incurred heavy losses, and was bought for the nation in 1913. The park hosted 20 FA Cup finals with crowds of up to 100,000 between 1895 and 1914.

The structure was destroyed by fire in 1936.

ICE chief librarian Mike Chrimes said: 'The event shows the popularity of engineering history while hosting the event has also brought many new visitors to the ICE.'

Earlier in his paper Chrimes noted that the troubles of constructing buildings to house exhibitions followed from Crystal Palace to the Dome.

'If one were to follow the history of London's Millennium Dome, summarise its successes and failures, and then delete all references to the name of the building, the exhibits and personalities involved, and substitute their 19th century equivalents, one would have a reasonable summary of many exhibitions of the periodà exhibits were often the subject of some dispute, and visitor forecasts and financial returns frequently disappointing.'

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