Why the plans to rebuild the famous Crystal Palace of 1851 might actually be more than a billionaire’s pipe dream
South London glazing contractors (and fire fighters) gird your loins: the Crystal Palace of 1851 is to be rebuilt. Exactly as it was (one presumes with fire-proof glass).
At least that is the grandiose plan of Chinese billionaire Ni Zhaoxing, whose development company has announced plans to resurrect the 900,000ft2 edifice, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition.
ZhongRong Holdings plans to rebuild the cast-iron and glass structure, which burned down in 1936, as a public space for exhibitions and other events. Don’t laugh. Mr Zhaoxing is worth more than a bob or two and has appointed the revered Arup at advisers. And it received added gravitas today courtesy of the irrepressible mayor of London, Boris Johnson, at the launch.
Plutocrats rebuilding iconic structures of the past has its precedents. The Roman emperor Hadrian did not buy postcards of buildings during his travels in Greece and Italy; he rebuilt them in his vast 250 acre Villa complex during the 2nd Century AD.
In 1822 the great and the good of Edinburgh clubbed together to “erect a facsimile of the Parthenon” towering over the Scottish capital, only to run out of funds with only a few columns erected atop Calton Hill. (Fellow Scot Lord Elgin had a more effective approach to the Parthenon: he just nicked bits).
ZhongRong Holdings plans to rebuild the cast-iron and glass structure, which burned down in 1936, as a public space for exhibitions and other events. Don’t laugh
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, a passing representation of Saint Peters in Rome, was rebuilt in the Ivory Coast between 1985 and 1989 at a cost of $300m, as a memorial planned by president Félix Houphouët-Boigny (who, self-deprecatingly, was pictured next to Jesus in one stained glass panel).
Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is trying to build a $500m near-replica of the Titanic (with room for a few more lifeboats).
What next? The Qataris rebuilding the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? The seven hills of Rome in Dubai? The only certainty is that with growing new wealth from emerging economies, there is unlikely to be a shortage of oligarchs in the near future willing to fund these giant eco-, sorry, ego-projects.
What would you rebuild if you had a Arab/Chinese/Russian squillionaire sugar daddy to bankroll you? Comments welcome below.