Ever since the Crystal Palace was burnt down in 1936 people have fantasised about rebuilding the iconic structure in memory of its creator Joseph Paxton.
They have also fought, by almost any means, plans to rebuild anything else in the Park – notably the commercial 20 screen multiplex finally defeated in 2001 and housing in the park to help finance the LDA master plan of 2005. Now we are confronted by a new proposal to rebuild an iconic Crystal Palace commercially. This calls for some soul searching for those that want a new Crystal Palace but not commercial exploitation of our park and national treasure.
The new ZRG proposal
Announced by Ni Zhaoxing and his ZhongRong Group (ZRG) supported by Mayor Boris Johnson and Bromley Council in October 2013.
You can download the official ZRG launch brochure here:
Well what exactly is the proposal?
The one fact is that ZRG now have an exclusivity agreement to develop one. Whether this will be a near replica of the 1855 building or a completely fresh design inspired by it is still completely open. It will be approaching the scale and footprint of the original but is constrained by the TV transmitter, station and water reservoir which will remain at the north end. ZRG have received 38 expressions of interest from international architects. These will be whittled down and a short list will be announced on February 24th of just 6. This will be reduced to 3 around Easter and the final selection will be made in the summer. The selection will be by Ni though he will be advised by a panel of the great and the good of the design profession.
The plan is to have the overall design ready for a planning application to Bromley by the end of 2014.
What will it contain?
This is still very vague. The suggestion is that 50/60% will be open to the public. Jerome Frost of Arup Associates (the design and civil engineering company tasked with managing the project) envisages this to be partly an art gallery with associated artist facilities, restaurants etc. Most of the remaining 40% will be a tourist orientated hotel. He assures us that the project is driven by Ni’s own artistic ambitions as a collector and his respect for Paxton’s creation.
The cost of the project is envisaged around £500 million and it does have to be profitable in the long term for the building to be sustainable.
Impact on the Park
The LDA master plan for the rest of the park continues with the exception of the housing proposal with this income replaced by an undetermined contribution from ZRG. This focuses on reducing the impact of the sports facilities with the downsizing of the stadium and the removal of all the other former National Sports Centre Buildings apart from the listed brutalist building. It also increases usable park land mainly by the removal of the 2000 permanent parking areas west of the stadium to a new car park located under the new building.
The Master Plan envisages the return of a central axis from the building to Penge Gate and improvements in leisure facilities around the bottom lake. The current dilapidated terraces will be restored as a public asset in order to set off the new building.
What’s the reaction?
Its different to before – or at least was during the first session at the February 1st drop-in. Over 100 did drop in and squeezed into Anerley Town Hall. The mood was questioning rather than hostile though there were some who questioned the need for any development. There was very little new information disclosed. We were assured that the needs of the local communities would be taken into account but not exactly how.
A major concern was the impact on traffic. The project envisages that public transport will be the major carrier. However the current bus station will need to be relocated and posssibly extended but to where? Tramlink was mentioned in passing but, again, no commitment to re-implement the project. Arup appear to be relying on the spare capacity on rail services with increased capacity on the Overground to London Bridge (though more visitors might prefer Victoria?). It was pointed out that rail services were often partially or entirely disrupted on Sundays – probably the most important day for the tourist trade.
Road congestion and street parking was clearly the major issue with many attending. There was no clear response to this. Whether the whole area would have to become a CPZ and how the current frequently jammed Sydenham Road and Crystal Palace Parade would accommodate construction and service traffic is yet to be answered.
The current excuse is because we have no plan, we have no numbers, so we can’t say. This is understandable but if ZRG stick to their ambition of having something in place by 2018/20 then they have a very short time to get the plan, facts and solutions together.
We will be watching – and reporting. Join in the discussion here:
Architectural shortlist announced
- David Chipperfield Architects
- Haworth Tompkins Architects
- Marks Barfield Architects
- Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
- Zaha Hadid Architects with Anish Kapoor
Up to three teams from this shortlist will be invited to prepare initial concept designs in the final competition stage. The selected architect, due to be appointed in the summer, will work closely with the lead consultant Arup.