While the first two examples of “abstract architecture” that were featured in this blog were actually built or started, we can say the Crystal Palace was a very well established building which stood there to remind the United Kingdom and the rest of the world about the power the country had in the world. It was, then, concrete. But, apparently, fragile. What makes it “abstract” is the fire which destroyed it in 1936.
The Tour Eiffel in Paris is the amazing reminder of what Great Exhibitions represented in time, the souvenir of an age past and gone. A showcase, in the true sense of the world. In the same way, the Crystal Palace was home to the Great Exhibition of 1851, displaying the most exciting discoveries of the Industrial Revolution and a real embodiment of what the Victorian age and its objects were all about. But the building itself was an amazement of its own: glass covered the whole structure of the building, representing the first largest surface completely covered in glass. In comparison to the then not yet planned Tour Eiffel, the Crystal Palace did not retain in its original place, but was moved to South London, where he could not survive to celebrate its first century. On 30th November 1936 a fire engulfed the building and brought it down. Commenting on the fire which destroyed the symbol of the Victorian England, Winston Churchill called the event “the end of an age” and he was quite right. Coincidentally, it was the same year George V had died and the whole nation was discussing the constitutional crisis caused by his successor, Edward VIII, and his hesitation to remain King while being in love with Wallis Simpson. Yes, the end of an age, considering the building had perhaps decided not to witness another World War and the end of the British Empire.
Many plans to rebuild the site have been proposed over the decades, but whoever visits the site where the Crystal Palace once stood can only find an empty spot, a large empty park, and a few reptile sculptures. Something has changed last year, when the Crystal Palace Football Club proposed the building of a new sports stadium. It will also include a subterranean aquatic centre and an indoor dry sports complex, with a structure that seems to imply the use of glass. This way, the 40,000-seat stadium will try to pay homage to the original building which still haunts the thoughts of older generations of Londoners: those who look at the place with nostalgia and imagine what the building would have looked like today.