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Adapting Glasshouses for Human Use: Environmental Experimentation in Paxton's Designs for the 1851 Great Exhibition Building and the Crystal Palace, Sydenham

Médium: article de revue
Langue(s): en 
Publié dans: Architectural History, , v. 54
Page(s): 233-273
DOI: 10.1017/s0066622x00004068

When the horticulturist Joseph Paxton first published his proposal to house the 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations inside a glasshouse of enormous scale at Hyde Park, London, the scheme was praised as a more practical alternative to an earlier idea that had been put forward by the Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition's own Building Committee. However, the feasibility of Paxton's idea soon became the subject of concern. The use of glasshouses for the cultivation of plants was well established, but could this type of building now be adapted to the task of accommodating artefacts? Could it also provide visitors to the Exhibition with a comfortable environment? A particular worry was the issue of cooling, given that the Exhibition was to take place in summer. Prospective exhibitors anxiously made reference to the hot and humid conditions inside greenhouses such as the Palm House at Kew Gardens and the Conservatory at Regent's Park, and they criticized Paxton's idea as a risky experiment. Paxton did not ignore the challenge. He pointed out that his design incorporated shading devices, provision for evaporative cooling and natural ventilation, all of which were intended to maintain comfortable temperatures on hot days. He argued that his proposals had been informed by his previous experience with conservatory design, claiming that he had validated the effectiveness of his ventilation and cooling strategy through smalls-cale experiments at Chatsworth House. That Paxton's plans were accepted and realized was largely due to good fortune. His design was considered to be the only one that could be constructed in time for the opening of the exhibition, which had already been advertised internationally. The Executive Committee, however, requested that conditions inside the building be carefully monitored. In effect, the Great Exhibition Building at Hyde Park became a significant early experiment in what would now be termed ‘environmental design' (Fig. 1).

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