A to Z of Expo Architects: Joseph Paxton

A to Z of Expo Architects: Joseph Paxton

It is a British gardener and greenhouse builder – Joseph Paxton – who occupies the “P” spot of the A to Z of Expo Architects series for his major contribution to industrial-era building design. Celebrated as a horticulturalist in his own right (he notably created the Cavendish banana), Paxton planned the Crystal Palace as the exhibition hall for Expo 1851 London, the first ever World Expo.

Paxton’s unique proposal for the 563-metre-long and 124-metre-wide structure was selected by the Organising Committee after it had rejected over 200 designs during a public call for tender. The requirement was to have a structure that was both large enough to host the Expo and practical enough to be easily removable, something Paxton had little problem in addressing due to his existing experience in building greenhouses.

Constructed in a matter of months, the immense iron and glass structure was a breakthrough in engineering and construction due to its modular design and reliance on prefabricated, standard-sized components. With more than 300,000 glass panes, the structure offered an immense and naturally-lit area of 92,000m2 for exhibitors to showcase their inventions, art, produce and ideas.

An instant hit with the public – the Expo drew 6 million visitors –the Crystal Palace paved the way for more sophisticated pre-fabricated designs that followed. Joseph Paxton received a knighthood from Queen Victoria for his accomplishment, which remains in history as one of the first large-scale iron structures of the industrial era.

The Crystal Palace itself was, as scheduled, dismantled following the Expo. It was moved to Sydenam Hill in South London, where it stood for over 80 years, until it was tragically destroyed by a fire in 1936.

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