Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A brief update on Crystal Palace

Yesterday, it was reported that six architects have been shortlisted for the £500million reconstruction of Crystal Palace.

These six have been whittled down from an initial list of 40 firms and now each of them will submit a more detailed proposal for the site before three of the firms will, according to Property Week, 'be invited to produce initial concept designs. The scheme's backers hope to finally select an architect by the summer.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson is clearly delighted by all of this:

'This is a stellar line-up of talent demonstrating the world-wide interest in this unique and challenging project.

'The rebuild of the Crystal Palace is set to produce an extraordinary new landmark for the capital, which will support the rebirth of  this historic park and catalyse jobs and growth in the area.'

It does, however, raise a couple of questions.  

No deal has yet been signed with the Chinese Zhongrong Group, whose billionaire owner Ni Zhaoxing wants to rebuild the palace. It's certainly not unusual for such high profile firms to get involved at such an early stage, but one planning expert tells me the timetable is 'hasty, though not exceptional'. We know, however, Bromley Council are desperate to rid themselves of the responsibility for the park. And the mayor is dazzled by big, impressive, futuristic images and is eager for landmark vanity projects to give him what amounts to a legacy. And consultation with local communities has so far been woeful; there is no indication from this latest announcement if or when this will improve.

Also, while all of the shortlisted firms will no doubt submit spectacular proposals for the site, what little consultation there has been has indicated a replica of the palace was to be built; will these firms find their creative talents shackled by such constraints? It seems unlikely, especially as submitting grand proposals for such a prime site - regardless of whether they are built or not - is a major advertising tactic for such practices. 

Thus far, while the prospects for a rebuilt Crystal Palace could certainly be exciting, it all seems wearily reminiscent of the previous, overly-ambitious and flawed, schemes to rejuvenate the site.


I have been reminded of a similar scheme to rebuild Crystal Palace which has been around for quite a while. My wife and I made a trip to Crystal Palace several years ago and dropped into the library in the Triangle where we were given a brochure by an enthusiastic fellow for a very ambitious scheme. This vision featured a new palace - two-thirds the size of the original - incorporating a world-class hotel, conference centre, restaurants and shops. A new Olympic-sized swimming pool would be built, as well as a ski slope, cinemas, a butterfly house, hanging gardens and a botanical centre. It would be a venue of international renown and be a new heart for south London.

In many ways it is very similar in scale to what is being envisaged now though obviously hasn't become a reality; the architect behind the scheme - Lewisham-based Raymond Hall - had a vision of it being reopened this year, although the updated video claims 2018 for a royal unveiling. For more information on this scheme go here.

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