Henry Cole wrote of the 1851 Great Exhibition that England had invited all nations to a great festival, and certainly in putting together and holding the exhibition, England played a pioneer role. The Universal Exhibition of the Works of All Nations, to give it its full title, was a 'first'. It also created the first major purpose-built exhibition building, a model which was to inspire many would-be imitators, but also in due course a number of improvements and competitors. The subject of this book is the wide variety of buildings designed to house those international exhibitions in Paris, Munich and New York, amongst others, promoted in emulation of the successful 1851 Exhibition, and the way suitable buildings were developed to display national prowess. Though the Crystal Palace remained an icon, and indeed a model for many, new ideas and more ambitious goals proliferated, including the design of more permanent structures, and the idea of individual national pavilions. A rich vein of building and engineering techniques was available and the architects and engineers involved were men with international reputations who worked on projects throughout the world.
In this volume, an international group of authors explores the building of the Crystal Palace, its successors, and the men and ideas which created the structures. The Crystal Palace is the first focus of attention, both in its original site in Hyde Park, where its structure required considerable development by a cadre of dedicated engineers from the 'blotting paper sketch' of Paxton. The experience in developing it, to enable it to stand up and do its job, was put to good use in its final resting-place at Sydenham, where it became a winter garden and a Palace of the People. The third section examines the further 'crystal palaces' that arose in New York, Munich and Oporto, each with their own characteristics enhancing and developing the structure and its amenities. The two nations which embraced the concept of exhibitions most enthusiastically were the British and the French, dealt with in section 4. The British had always intended that the 1851 Exhibition should be succeeded by a series on the French quinquennial model, and these were initially held in buildings erected on the estate at South Kensington bought out of the proceeds.
The French had nursed a sense of irritation at the way that their original concept had been hijacked by the British. A series of increasingly innovative and striking buildings were accordingly developed, culminating in the Eiffel Tower. This is a fascinating study of the exhibition buildings inspired by the Crystal Palace. The Eiffel Tower is still one of the sights of Paris, but few of the other exhibition structures have survived. However, their influence at the time was very great, and later spread throughout the world in the development of both temporary and permanent engineering structures for all kinds of uses, both for display and for more mundane uses, such as in warehouses and port buildings.