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Delays hit high-profile competition to resurrect Crystal Palace

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The contest to resurrect Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace has stalled

It is understood negotiations between Chinese ZhongRong Group, the backers behind the ambitious project, and Bromley Council, which owns the site in Crystal Palace Park, have taken longer than expected - with no indication as to when the issues could be resolved.

In February the competition organisers named a stellar shortlist of half a dozen of the UK’s biggest hitters, including David Chipperfield, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and a collaboration between Zaha Hadid Architects and Anish Kapoor, with a winner due to be named later this summer.

However it now seems unlikely this initial timetable will be met - as do hopes that a planning application for the project to re-imagine the south London landmark could be submitted before the end of the year.

ZhongRong’s bid to recreate Crystal Palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1936, as a new cultural destination reflecting the original ‘spirit, scale and magnificence’ of Paxton’s original structure has made national headlines.

However the proposals have also been met with local opposition, with many questioning what the building would actually house (see AJ 28.06.14).

Tom Chance a spokesman for the Green Party in Crystal Palace said: ‘We understand that the negotiations are stuck in a bit of a catch 22 situation, that the council wants more detail on the plans before they sign off on the land deal, but the developer wants the land deal secured before they put more money into developing the plans.

This whole flawed process is really damaging

He added: ‘This whole flawed process is really damaging, because it has left a number of projects to improve the park in limbo for almost a year already. The exclusivity agreement runs until next February, so if this project falls apart as we hope then Bromley Council will have wasted sixteen months and lost millions in lottery funding.’

A Bromley Council spokesperson said: ‘Discussions are continuing and as the nature of this dialogue is confidential, we cannot comment further at this stage.’

A spokesman for ZhongRong added: ‘Commercial negotiations are ongoing between ZhongRong and Bromley.’

Previous story (AJ 25.02.14)

Zaha, Rogers and Chippo on ‘stellar’ Crystal Palace shortlist

A line-up of half a dozen of the UK’s biggest hitters, including three former Stirling Prize winners, has been shortlisted in the contest to resurrect Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace

David Chipperfield, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and an intriguing collaboration between Zaha Hadid Architects and Anish Kapoor have been named in the final six, alongside Grimshaw, Marks Barfield Architects and Haworth Tompkins.

Shortlist in full:

  • David Chipperfield Architects
  • Grimshaw with FutureCity
  • Haworth Tompkins Architects
  • Marks Barfield Architects
  • Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
  • Zaha Hadid Architects with Anish Kapoor

The contest, which attracted 40 leading practices from around the globe, is backed by the Chinese ZhongRong Group (ZRG), which plans to spend £500 million on Crystal Palace Park, creating a cultural destination reflecting the original ‘spirit, scale and magnificence’ of the south London landmark.

Paxton’s original structure was destroyed by fire in 1936.

It is understood ‘up to three’ of the shortlisted teams will be asked to draw up concept designs, with a winner appointed later in the summer.

The victorious practice will be expected to work closely with lead consultant Arup.

Billed as a new ‘culture-led exhibition and employment space’, the scheme is set to create up to 2,000 jobs and will incorporate the listed Italianate terraces. The scheme will sit within Latz + Partners’ existing masterplan for the wider revamp of the surrounding 80ha park.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who is chairing the jury panel, said: ‘This is a stellar line-up of talent demonstrating the worldwide interest in this unique and challenging project.

‘The rebuild of The Crystal Palace is set to produce an extraordinary new landmark for the capital, which will support the rebirth of this historic park and catalyse jobs and growth in the local area.’

The other judges are RIBA president Stephen Hodder, Peter Murray, the chair of New London Architecture, former CABE chairman John Sorrell, leader of Bromley Council Stephen Carr, Hank Dittmar from the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, and Eden Project co-founder Tim Smit.

The panel includes representatives from ZRG, which has an exclusivity agreement to develop the site with landowner Bromley Council.

The company’s chairman, Ni Zhaoxing, said: ‘The expressions of interest and outstanding shortlist demonstrate the wealth and diversity of design talent inspired by the challenge of rebuilding the Crystal Palace in the spirit of the magnificent original.’

The competition was first mooted last October and officially launched in December. A planning application could be submitted as early as this winter, with construction expected to start in winter 2015.  

A spokesperson for the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway said: ‘This is a very exciting list of names.

‘[However] we are looking forward to more information on not just the design, but scale and function of any proposed building and how the architects intend to incorporate our beloved subway into any design and make it available for community, arts and heritage uses.’


• Originally erected for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, Joseph Paxton’s extended and relocated Crystal Palace was the largest glass structure in the world before being destroyed by a fire in 1936. Most of the original building’s footprint at Sydenham Hill is now unused by the public.

• An Act of Parliament in 1990 specified that any new building on the plot must be ‘in the spirit of Paxton’s original building’.

• The new building will be about 50m high and 500m long – six storeys tall and the length of five football pitches.

Previous story (AJ 03.10.13)

Big name architect sought for new £500m Crystal Palace plans

The team behind plans to resurrect south London’s famous Crystal Palace has revealed that it is seeking a ‘big UK architect’ to lead the design

The £500million development, which was officially unveiled today (3 October) by London Mayor Boris Johnson, will be funded by the Chinese Zhang Rong Group (ZRG) and is being billed as a ‘culture-led exhibition and employment space’ that will become a ‘major new cultural destination for the capital.’

Arup is advising ZRG on the initial concept and design principals as well as leading the stakeholder consultation. An advisory board including Eden Project co-founder Tim Smit, London Design Festival chair John Sorrell and the Prince of Wales’ special advisor Hank Dittmar will work alongside group chair Boris.

Arup director Jerome Frost, who was in charge of design and regeneration at the 21012 Olympic Games, said no architect had been appointed to the scheme but he added that the historic importance and sensitivity of the scheme would favour a ‘big UK architect’.

Newly released images of the scheme pay clear homage to Joseph Paxton’s original iconic glass building which burnt down in 1936. Initial concepts show a modern glass palace replica sitting on the same footprint as the original, along a 500m length of terracing in the heart of the park.

Plans include a modern glass replica of Paxton’s iconic palace

To head off inevitable concerns about how the development will affect the much-loved park, Frost committed to restoring the 180-acre space to its former Victorian glory. He also confirmed that provision for housing made in an earlier masterplan by German firm Latz & Partners’ had been ditched.

Cars may also be banned from the site and Frost said the existing sports facilities, including an Olympic-size swimming pool, diving and athletics facilities would remain.

An enthusiastic Johnson gave unequivocal backing to the scheme: ‘We will be giving Bromley Council our whole-hearted support for a plan by which South London will acquire a world-class cultural attraction and by which the park will be re borne and the palace will rise again.

‘It is a brilliant, original and simple vision to recreate Crystal Palace in a 21 century version,’ added Johnson.  

A planning application is expected to be submitted within a year with work expected to start on site in the winter of 2015.

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