(P128) Crystal Palace - Sculpture Park

A visualisation of the Gallery from the South East, below the terraces, shows off the extraordinary creation of Chris Wilkinson from Wilkinson & Eyre, Architects.

The concept was presented to the Strategic Working Group last Thursday, 6th November.

The site itself is the highest tree-lined ridge in London, with an unrivalled sense of openness, and views over the capital and towards the countryside to the South. It provides a unique opportunity to view the best of modern sculpture against the sky, in one of our greatest parkland settings. Chris Wilkinson's design is the same height, and follows the same line, as the transverse aisle of the original Palace.


The Vision

'Go forth into the Park, take glass and iron, and - beauty wedding strength - produce the Industrial Hall of Nations.'

The sculptor Antony Gormley defines the vision of the new proposals:

'The terraces from Crystal Palace have extraordinary views, both of London and the South, and there is an opportunity on this great spreading series of horizontal plains for activities dedicated to three-dimensional exposure, making and sharing to take place.

'The reanimation of the site depends on two things, one is the clarification of its footprint, and the opening up of the site to the sky and to the views, and the other is the provision of a landmark building that will signal this reoccupation.

'This initiative is a reanimation of an absolutely unique and splendid site from the past for contemporary cultural activities.'


The Sculpture Gallery

'A blazing arch of lucid glass / Leaps like a fountain from the grass / To meet the sun.'

The architectural approach to the site is described by Chris Wilkinson:

'Creating a building on the site of the Crystal Palace imposes enormous responsibilities on the architect. The Palace represented a huge technological advance in building, a talismanic edifice which defined modernity in architecture for a century or more. The site demands homage without pastiche, in a building which, like the Palace, acts at the cusp of engineering and architecture. Despite its size, however, it must seem as light as air.

'The sheer scale of the landscape requires a major architectural response. To do less is to waste an opportunity, and to do nothing is to fritter away Paxton's legacy. But a building the size of the Palace, or anything like it, would simply dwarf the local community which has grown up around the Park. It would also be unlikely to gain acceptance, on environmental grounds.

'So we have developed the idea of a Palace in the sky, large enough to accommodate major exhibitions, but taking up none of the precious open space of the Park. A building to be seen for miles around, a London icon by day and night, but also a building from which to view London laid out beneath. Instead of mass, there is height: the area is less than 10% of the Crystal Palace.'


The Park Top Site

'Crystal Palace offers a unique opportunity to view sculptures against the sky.'
Antony Gormley

Philip Kolvin, who has chaired a community campaign to regenerate this park, explains the intentions of the scheme:

'Our own survey work showed 83% of people wanted a landscaped option for the site, while 61% voted for outdoor arts. At the same time, 57% wanted a building, with the most popular option being an arts / cultural building.

'The genius of the Wilkinson conception is that it answers the architectural imperatives of the site while retaining the entirety of the hilltop as green open space. It achieves the unique feat of creating impact without encroachment....

'The heritage of this site must never be forgotten. It will be possible to mark out the perimeter of the Crystal Palace in a line of light, and to install information displays to describe the Palace as was. There will be landscaping and new tree-planting to reinforce Paxton's central axis through the Park, and to enhance the ecological value of the site. And there will be restoration of the terracing and stairs, using original materials wherever possible.

'All these ideas will be subject to full and proper consultation. This Palace, like the last, will be one for the people.'

Compliance with the Criteria of the Crystal Palace Park Dialogue Group

Chris Wilkinson is a partner in Wilkinson Eyre Architects which, with its portfolio of national and international award-winning projects, is one of the UK's leading architectural practices. Having been awarded the highly prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Award 2001 for the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, Yorkshire, the practice has recently won an unprecedented second successive Stirling Award for the highly acclaimed Gateshead Millennium Bridge. It has recently been appointed as master planner for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to develop a strategy for the long-term management of the site.

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11/11/03 last updated 26/11/03;16/3/04(added number)

© Visualisation - Wilkinson Eyre
November 2003