One of the great monuments of 19th-century architecture... I could not tear my eyes from the spectacle of its triumphant harmony.
In the mid-19th century, a structure was to be built in London’s Hyde Park to house The Great Exhibition of 1851. This structure, which would later become a beloved, crystalline monument, has a backstory replete with competing personalities, fateful accidents, and bold decisions.
The story begins in 1849 when 245 architectural designs were considered by the Fair’s building committee. None passed muster. Enter Joseph Paxton, gardener to Lord Cavendish, whose hasty sketch on a small sheet of blotting paper disrupted years of planning when it became the chosen design at the last possible moment.
With only nine months to design and build the massive structure, it was the sheer ingenuity of Paxton and contractors Fox and Henderson that enabled its completion. When finished, 19 acres of Hyde Park—trees and all—were housed under The Crystal Palace, and a triumphant Queen Victoria opened the building to great international fanfare.
So how did they do it? How did Paxton come to create the fateful sketch? How did Fox and Henderson engineer and construct such an ambitious enterprise? And how does a water lily—the Victoria regia—play a role in this story?
That’s what this seminar is about. (Hard hat optional.)
Brian Bowen, Professor of Practice, School of Building Construction, College of Design, Georgia Institute of Technology, founded the Construction History Society of America and serves as its Chairman Emeritus.
A. Peter Hilger, AIA, is Faculty Director of the College of Continuing Education’s (CCE) Construction and Facility Management Program and serves on the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission. He is the recipient of the prestigious Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award and CCE’s Distinguished Educator Award.
Sir Joseph Paxton is a gardener, landscape planner, and inventor. After running away from home at the age of 12, he met Lord William Spencer Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, who made Paxton garden manager at Chatsworth House. Knighted by Queen Victoria, he is married to Sarah Brown, who is also in service to the Duke.