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.

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8 comments on “Another attempt to rebuild the Crystal Palace
  1. Very true. Building a cowardly copy of a past glory flies in the whole face of the original Victorian vision for a Crystal Palace (how exciting is that?) through their demonstration of new technologies of structural engineering.

  2. Simon says:

    Agreed. I know the area well, and while the park could use an injection of cash and some TLC (which is already planned, by the way), something like this would completely overpower the entire area just as it’s finding its feet and becoming quite a nice little part of London.

    Not to mention that this is public land. Bromley council have another thing coming if they think it’s acceptable to turn it over to wealthy developers to exploit.

  3. Michael says:

    You make a good case for not building a massive shopping centre, but that doesn’t mean that a rebuilt Crystal Palace could not contain something else. The Eden Project attracts close to 1 million visitors a year and it is neither cheap nor close to the main tourist centre of Britain. Building something similar at Crystal Palace (with some shopping, theatre/cinema, and educational facilities) would attract millions and provide a huge economic boost to South London.

    A viewing tower might be a good idea, but the views are not as spectacular as from The Shard, Greenwich Park, or the OIympic Park. It’s a lovely view but you need binoculars to see central London properly.

    My dream would be to extend to Bakerloo Line underground (not on existing railways) all the way to the new Crystal Palace. The two together would completely transform South East London.

  4. Sykobee says:

    To be honest, the top park of the park where this would be built is mostly fenced off or is a bus station, and there’s a grassy area around a crumbling tarmac pedestrian road down into the park. Building on this area isn’t going to remove much public space.

    And the park plans will turn a lot of car parking into grass, and remove a lot of fences that interrupt the park’s continuity.

    The main issue is that this building would overwhelm the area, and the transport links – although not bad – aren’t suitable for such a venture. No line from central london is a major issue – they would need to extend the Bakerloo or Victoria line to this construction to make it viable.

  5. Tom Rainbow says:

    I hate to be an old fogey, but I rather fancy the idea of having the original back again. What I want to know is: will they re-instate the atmospheric railway as well?

  6. Simon says:

    I’m afraid I don’t buy the argument that just because parts of that land are not currently in great nick, we should hand them over to billionaire developers and to hell with future generations. And the bus station may not be glamorous but it serves a thoroughly valuable purpose.

    The plans to re-parkify the rest of the park are in place already. Turning it into a giant out-of-town mall to make very rich guys who don’t even live in Britain even richer adds nothing.

  7. Greg Tingey says:

    Simon
    Bromley council?
    Given their long-term venomous hatred of truly public projects, especially in transport, I’d expect them to roll over & play dead for any “developer” … ooops.

  8. sue nagle says:

    What does it matter what you want or what I want. When are people going to acknowledge that the local people should be asked and the majority view should prevail. I have been consulting on this subject for many years and there is a lot of support for a Crystal PAlace rebuild. Personally I am not against an amazing new building but not an art gallery, 6 star hotel and conference centre. That will not offer the local community the family entertainment and music/cinematic events that we need in the area. After all, we are to suffer the upheaval, disruption and traffic. It’s only right we have a say. The act of parliament that governs the site says that any building has to be in the spirit of the original. The original had something for every age, class and culture and the plebes rubbed shoulders with the wealthy. The Zhong Rong scheme could be a bit too elitist to fit that stipulation. What concerns me most is that Mr Ni supposedly wants to build the building to show and to sell his extensive art collection. What happens when he has sold his collection. Will he sell the building on and will it then receive the same protection?