Aug. 3, 1803: Crystal Palace Architect Born
Joseph Paxton is born in Milton Bryan, England. His career will take him from garden boy to gardener to landscape designer to architect-engineer of the largest glass buildings of his day — including London’s famous Crystal Palace of 1851.
Paxton built a huge glass greenhouse at Chatsworth between 1836 and 1840 for his employer, the Duke of Devonshire. Queen Victoria knighted Paxton in 1850 not for his architectural accomplishments but for a horticultural achievement: coaxing the huge Victoria amazonica water lily to flower in a greenhouse.
Paxton’s fame earned him a seat in the House of Commons, and it was there that he intersected with plans for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Royal Society of Arts had promoted the idea of an international exhibition of manufactures and industrial goods, and a royal commission was formed in 1850 to produce the event.
The ungainly result was a huge iron dome on a long, low brick building. The press had a field day making fun of it, and — worse yet —none of the 19 bids submitted by contractors came in under the 100,000-pound budget (about $14 million in today’s U.S. currency). Desperate, the committee lopped the dome off the design, leaving no more than a squat mega-shed.