Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace: Proto-Modernity

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pax Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace: Proto-Modernity It is often said that the Crystal Palace was the first example of modern architecture. Built in 1851, it was a time in history where lots of change was taking place. “In 1913, the French writer Charles Péguy remarked ‘the world has changed less since the time of Jesus Christ than it has in the last thirty years’. He was right and it was a widespread feeling. For the essence of the early modernist experience were not the specific inventions. Most people were not affected by a prototype in a lab, or an equation on a blackboard, not yet. No the important thing was the sense of an accelerated rate of change in all areas of human discourse. It provided the feeling of a new millennium, a new order of things as the nineteenth century clicked over into the twentieth, the end of one kind of history and the start of another.” (‘The Mechanical Paradise’ in The Shock of the New VHS 09:16-09:55). It was an exciting time in the history of architecture also. A century into the Industrial Revolution meant new materials like steel, glass, concrete and iron were not just available in large amounts but people were willing to apply these to architecture. Joseph Paxton was born in the year 1803. From a young age he was a skilled gardener, earning respect from William Cavendish, who was the 6th Duke of Devonshire. He came to work as head gardener at the Duke’s stately home, where he was to renovate the landscape garden. He built a strong relationship with the Duke, even turning down the opportunity to work in the royal gardens. In 1837, Paxton gained inspiration from the natural structure of the Victoria Regia Giant Lily on which the Chatsworth greenhouse (and later Crystal Palace) was designed. Paxton was amazed at the plant’s ability to hold his young daughter Annie. Paxton famously came up quickly with his design for

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