From fiery embers the Crystal Palace is to be reborn. A shining glass emporium of culture to adorn the terraces of long neglected Sydenham.
Except, that isn’t what is being planned.
Despite all the hype and reports of a rebuilding of the long lost Crystal Palace, do not expect a recreation of that Victorian edifice.
Firstly, there is a very vocal local opposition, and when it comes to developments, there is nothing so daunting as a group of retired people with nothing else to do but protest about things.
The last attempt to build something here a decade ago drowned in a sea of letters and objections.
But the key reason why there wont be a Crystal Palace rebuilt on the site is evident in the Chinese company’s own statement — they want to build something that is “faithful to the original building“.
It may well have some elements of design from the original, but don’t start looking at old photos and imagining that is what will be rebuilt.
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Chinese developers have an odd obsession with building replicas of things, and while a replica Crystal Palace might impress local politicians and attract shoppers in a dusty city in the middle of the Chinese mainland, I am less convinced that it would have the same effect in South London.
What we have to remember is that the original Crystal Palace was essentially, a shopping centre. Yes, it had art and culture, but the main commercial function was to sell goods to the growing Middle-Classes, who often wanted to furnish their new home en-bulk, and could come here and order a new kitchen, lounge, bedroom etc.
It was the Westfield of its day — exhibitions instead of cinemas, ornate gardens instead of a car park, and shops. Lots of shops.
With Croydon planning a major overhaul of its shopping centre, could the area cope with another development of that scale on its doorstep?
I am not against development, and the area certainly could do with a good clean up at least. Here’s a remarkably good idea. But, whatever it is that is put there, please no, not a replica Crystal Palace.
London is not some Victorian fantasy frozen in time, nor an entertainment centre with replica this that and the other to attract the shoppers. It’s a living vibrant city.
Sometimes, buildings are lost to later generations, by design, by war, or by accident. But London evolves and moves on. We should not seek to recreate a pastiche of the past. Leave that to Las Vegas, or China.
The Crystal Palace was a building of its time. Today, if it still existed, we’d be scratching our heads about what to do with the damn thing.
Let it remain a fond memory of the past.