Crystal Palace Park
London, United Kingdom | 1996-2002
Crystal Palace Park gives an overwhelming feeling of being a lost place, a past dream with vestiges that seem unconnected to today’s world. Since the loss of the Crystal Palace the site has been used as residue land open to any whim. This lack of care has broken down the essence of the place, its previous grandeur and composition remain to be exploited for the use of our societies changing needs, desires and dreams. Our challenge is to create a solution of simplicity and invention that upholds Paxton’s landscape principals and draws energy from its past.
Two conceptual directions have been chosen ‘Perception’ and ‘Time’. Perception: the visual or audio perception of any one element will be in motion either through itself or through the movement of the viewer through space. Perception will be expressed through the discovery of successive altered images of the spaces and the elements within them. Time: the evolution of space, time is a non constant feeling, it stops, rolls, rushes, spans, stretches. It creates hope, through evolution and fear, through destruction. Time will be expressed through the use of water and seasonal changes in vegetation.
The composition of the park is defined by the 50 metre level difference between the top and bottom of the site, which leads to a lateral visual perception across the site. This is reinforced by the strong formal composition of Paxton’s upper terraces and the addition of the recent Sports Centre. The partially fractured Main Axis is to be restored as the main vertebrae that connects the lateral grid and helps unify the formal elements which then unfold into the more ‘natural’ landscape to the edge of the park.
The presence of water will be pervasive throughout the site. The gravity system used is based on Paxton’s original design. His water towers are replaced by a canal reservoir at the top of the hill from which varying water effects throughout the park spring into life on a timed frequency. One effect announcing and leading on to the next. The granite basins on the ‘Waterfields’ placed between Paxton’s terrace walls will fill with fountains and flood with water, and on occasion fill the entire terrace area. The water will then pass down into the ‘Colour Courts’ with a water jet set in front of each arch of Paxton’s lower terrace. The water will then move through a series of channels to animate other areas of the park before converging on the main axis to pass through and animate the Central Square, flow into the existing Boating Lake and pass over a cascade to fill the Penge Entrance Lake. The Main Axis terminates at the bottom of the hill by passing over the lake as a metal grilled bridge and where Paxton had left an inconclusive end to his own axis.
Towards the parks centre an axis of Glasshouses cross the park laterally defining the spatial limits of the ‘Colour Swatch’ above and the smaller Rose, Trellis and Millennium gardens below. The roof the Glasshouses will undulate across the landscape, reflecting the sky and acting like a ripple of water in distant views. The Colour Swatch, a large undulating land sculpture is for sitting and viewing. It is traversed by a wide brand of flowering plants that will continue the discourse on the use of colour in landscape started during Paxtons time. The plants will be propagated in the glasshouses which are programmatically linked to the landscape in other ways, housing a plant centre, education centre, Paxton archive and restaurant.
The remaining areas of the Park will remain much as they are at present, but brought back to life with new planting, paths and maintenance procedures. This is not to forget the listed Dinosaurs, survivors from the past who will be given a more exotic ambience of surprise and discovery, with a feeling of walking into another time.
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Commended Urban Project Unbuilt, RIBA Urban Space By Design Awards