The Crystal Palace: The Beginning of Iron & Glass

The Crystal
The Beginning of
Iron & Glass
Hix, John: The Glass House
McKean, John: The Crystal Palace
The Great Exhibition;
London, 1851
• A “Great Exhibit of the Works of Industry
of All Nations”
• The building was the epitome of England’s industry, vision, determination, wealth,
technical knowledge, and powers of production.
Charles Dickens
said of the project,
“Two parties in London, relying on the accuracy and good faith of certain ironmasters,
glass-workers in the provinces, and of one master carpenter in London, bound themselves
for a certain sum of money, and in the course of four months, to cover eighteen acres of
ground with a building upwards of a third of a mile long (1851 feet- the exact date of the
year) and some hundred and fifty feet broad. In order to do this, the glass maker promised
to supply, in the required time, nine hundred thousand square feet of glass (> 400 tons).
The iron-master passed his word in like manner, to cast in due time 3300 iron columns; 34
miles of guttering tube, 2224 girders. The carpenter undertook to get ready within the
specific period 205 miles of sash-bar; flooring for a building of thirty-three millions of cubic
feet; besides enormous quantities of wooden walling, louver work and partition.”
The Building Delivery Process
• 01/1850 The Royal Commission, Chaired by Prince Albert
• 03/13/50 Competition announced for temporary exhibition
• 240 entries, none chosen, instead committee offered it’s own
• A brick structure with an iron dome - dark, heavy, permanent
Fears Abound
• protectionists feared foreign
• environmentalists feared
destruction of elms
• the press feared foreign
visitors - Papists, thieves, &
Problems with the
Committee’s Design
• 17 million bricks, 200ft dome, extensive foundations, a
permanent structure
• By 06/50 things looked bleak
Enter the “White Knight”: Joseph Paxton
• founded newspaper, wrote books on horticulture, wrote
articles on greenhouse design
• knew several people on Royal Commission
• they found loophole to allow design submission
Architectural Conservatory;
Prof. Richard Bradley , 1718
• School of Botany at Cambridge
• conformed to rules of arch., but considered welfare of plants.
• glass dome, thin Corinthian columns., white tile walls
Das Grosses Gewächshaus;
Kassel , 1822
Great Conservatory;
Paxton, 1836
• Longest glass building in the world
• 277’L x 123’ W x 67’ H.
• Laminated wood beams, cast iron columns along the nave, ridge & furrow
glazing system
Great Wall at Chatsworth; Paxton, 1848
• 330’ long enclosure of an exist. masonry wall
Victoria Regia House;
Paxton, 1850
• cultivating a growing Victoria Regia Lilly from S. America
• leaves supported by thin cantilevers
• first “flat roof” installation of ridge & furrow glazing system
• two tilted 49” glass panes + sash equals 81”, c/c.
• 24’ girders + deep gutters + trussed Paxton gutter
Victoria Regia House;
Gutter Details
• external & interior waterways
• change of depth
• trusses with “pretensioning”
For the Crystal Palace, Paxton…..
• promised a full set of drawings in 10 days based on a sketch
during a RR board meeting,
• he & estate staff produced drawings in seven days - almost
exact to what was actually built
After Paxton’s First Sketches Were
• Fox Henderson & Co. undertook calculations and the prep of
detailed drawings.
• bid of £150, 000 - if left standing
• bid of £79,800 if leased
• now the building committee needed to approve the plans
Paxton Leaked Design to Illustrated
London News
• cheaper, quicker, assemble/ disassemble, no brick, stone,
mortar, light foundation, day lighting, no interior walls, 25%
greater area
• committee was furious
• public overwhelmingly positive
On 07/15….
• Royal Commission rejected
Building Committee’s design
& accepted Paxton’s lower
• added transcept to save the
Construction Drawings
• Fox - 7weeks, 18hrs/ day to produce drawings
• as soon as drawings were finished, Henderson set up
production schedule
• small crew installed drainpipes & light foundations
• Overall Building: 1848’ x 456’
• Nave: 72’W x 64’ H
• Transcept: 408’ x 104’ H
Modular, Hierarchical
Cast Iron in Buildings:
• Crystal Palace
• 3,300 columns from 14 1/2 to 20 ft tall
• 34 miles of guttering tube below grade
• 2,224 girders
• Cast Iron Applications in Buildings
• 1796 - Shrewesbury Warehouse
• 1809 - cast iron dome in Paris
• 1849 - cast iron facades by J. Bogardus
• 1851 - Crystal Palace
• 1855 - Bessemer Process for steel making
• 1884 - Home Insurance Building, Chicago
Cast Iron in the
Crystal Palace
• Column ends were lathe
• Canvas gasket dipped in
white lead at the joints
• 3’ deep collar with
connecting lip
• Girders secured with
wrought iron wedges
Column Schedule
Strength Testing:
• several iron bridges had failed in the 1840’s
• for public assurance:
• marching soldiers and rolling cannon balls
• for the engineers:
• hydraulic press tested 214 girders with 24’ span
• tested at 15T and 22T
• first private testing laboratories & concept of factor of safety
• 600,000 cu ft of wood milled into >200 miles of gutters and
sash bars
• milling operation input rough beams and output finished
profiled gutters
• dipped in paint trough and run across fixed brushes to
remove excess
• Chance Bros. & Co. won the
• from 08/50 - 02/51, they
• >300,00 sheets
• >900,000 sf
• >400T
• largest sheet ever made, 10” x
49” from the cylinder process
• this contract equaled 1/3 of
England’s total prior
Ridge & Furrow Glazing
• suffered from excessive light
and heat gain
• canvas was stretched from ridge
to ridge with drain holes over the
• sprayed with water for cooling
• also included a mechanical
ventilation system
• laminated wood beams reinforced with iron rods
• sloping sash bars for the glazing system
Time & Budget
• 9/26/50:
• First column on site
• Columns placed just 18 hrs after casting
• 01/51
• Structural frame completed
• Bid: £79,800
• Change Orders: £27,980 + £35,000
• Total Cost: £142,780
The Exhibition:
• By 9/25/51: £451,000 in receipts
• On 10/7/51: almost 100,000 guests
• On 10/11/51: closed to the public
• On 5/12/52: Sold for £70,000
After the Crystal Palace
• Lyndhurst by Lord & Burnham
• Hothouses for the millions
Horeau & Turner:
• Prize Winners for Exhibition
• Paris & London proposals,
Paris executed
• Train stations, other
exhibitions, NY etc.
Hot Houses for the Millions
• Residential Greenhouses
• Winter Garden in the Anglo-Japanese Style
Glass House by Bruno Taut
• “Expressionist” architecture
• Built at the Cologne
• Concrete lamellar structure
• Glass ceilings, walls, floors,
• professional A/E jealousy and fear
• shift from A/E to design/ build
• concern that modular buildings could not be suited to
individual sites/ needs
• search for an appropriate aesthetic
Influences on Today’s
Building Practices
• structural frame
• standard rolled shapes
• standard details
• strength testing
• prefabrication
• assembly/ disassembly
• published w/ enough detail to allow others to build
• project management