park now survives, and even that is under threat. The Crystal Palace Partnership, with representatives of five London boroughs and private-sector groups, is undertaking a £150 million regeneration scheme for Crystal Palace Park that includes its “restoration,” a concert platform, modernization of the National Sports Centre, and a so-called new Crystal Palace on the surviving 12-acre (4.8-hectare) terrace. The latter, an insensitive proposal for a utilitarian building housing a twenty-screen cinema multiplex with restaurants, bars, and rooftop parking for a thousand cars, provoked local residents to launch the Crystal Palace Campaign in May 1997. A challenge to the scheme is being mounted in the High Court on the grounds that the Crystal Palace Act of 1990 provides that any building on the site should be “in the style and spirit of the former Crystal Palace.”

Further reading

Bird, Anthony. 1976. Paxton’s Palace. London: Cassell.

Elliot, Cecil D. 1992. Technics and Architecture: The Development of Materials and Systems for Buildings. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

The Great Exhibition: London’s Crystal Palace Exposition of 1851. 1995. New York: Gramercy.

Curtain walls

Traditionally, the wall of a building served both structural and environmental purposes. That is, it carried to the ground the weight of the building and its contents and, while admitting air and light through openings, protected the interior from extremes of weather, noise, and other undesirable intrusions. The introduction of structures in which the loads are carried by beams and columns liberated the wall from load bearing, allowing it to function solely as an environmental filter—a relatively thin, light curtain, so to speak. This was first seen in the later medieval cathedrals with their vast stained-glass windows, but it would not be widely developed until the nineteenth century, with the advent of metal-framed architecture and, subsequently, reinforced concrete. The metal-and-glass membrane supported by the building frame, known as the curtain wall, is principally associated with multistory office buildings after about 1880.


Seagram Building, New York City; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect, 1954–1958. Exterior, photographed in 1997.

Although the first skyscrapers, such as the Rookery (1885–1886) and Monadnock Building (1889–1891), both in Chicago and both designed by architects Burnham and Root, had thick conventional load-bearing walls, the twin economic necessities of getting buildings up quickly and optimizing the quantity and quality of interior space soon led to buildings whose outer walls consisted almost entirely of windows supported by perimeter columns and beams. This was a first step toward the development of a true curtain wall, that is, a continuous wall in front of the structural frame. The earliest example was Albert Kahn’s Packard Motor Car Forge Shop in Detroit (1905). A curtain of glass in steel frames allowed more space