Historical Background

Crystal Palace as Exhibit Space

The Crystal Palace design is composed of a central transcept and nave with the nave lined with a series of 24x24 foot structural bays. Second level galleries ring the bays below (fig. 1 and VRML model). The structural bays served to organize the 13,973 exhibitors. Red banners with white letters indicating specific exhibits hung from the 24 foot girders facing the the nave. The nave, galleries and transcept served as circulation corridors for the exhibitions more than 6 million visitors.

The large expanse of overhead glass that serves as the enclosure and lighting systems and gives the building its nickname allowed excessive amounts of light and heat into the exhibit spaces. While this arrangement served Paxton well in the Chatsworth greenhouse, the crowded exhibit spaces quickly overheated. The decision to use extensive amounts of glass without regard to the comfort of the occupants is the primary failure of the design. To remedy this flaw the troughs of the roof system were retrofitted with canvas covers draped between the roof ridges. These tarps shaded the glass and visitors, reduced solar gain and provided a more diffuse and tolerable light in the galleries. The tarps had a seam down the middle to allow quick water drainage into the Paxton gutters (fig. 2 and 3).