King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Imperial designs: technology and empire in the 19th century

Exhibiting international industry

Line illustration depicting machinery used for opening and closing louvres (doors) at the Crystal Palace.Machinery used for opening and closing louvres (doors) at the Crystal Palace.Both the contents of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the grand glass building in which they were displayed gave Britain the opportunity to showcase its growing industrial invention and might in the mid-19th century.

The 27 fold-out plates in this item detail the technical specifications behind the design of the ‘Great Shalimar’ structure, from plans of the ground floor and galleries to details of staircases and the main gutters. The building was erected in Hyde Park and became more commonly known as the Crystal Palace.

The fold-out diagram shown here, one of many in this book, details the machinery that operates the building’s louvres - the moveable doors which controlled the flow of air in the building.

The building was constructed only of iron, wood and glass and no individual part of the structure measured more than 24 feet in length or weighed more than a ton. The compact mobility of such a design meant that the building was later disassembled and re-erected in Sydenham, south London, where it gave the area its present name of Crystal Palace.

The building was designed by Joseph Paxton (1803-65) and contained 900,000 square feet of glass, utilising only natural light. Its components were sourced from all over the country and close co-operation between Paxton and the contractors meant that it was completed in just five months.

Recent newspaper reports have suggested that a Chinese billionaire plans to build a replica of the Crystal Palace to be situated in the eponymous park in which the original structure unfortunately burnt down in 1936.

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