In November 1996, Ian Ritchie Architects were successful in an invited competition against an international selection of architects renowned for their design with glass and steel, to lead the design of a leisure centre on the site of the original Crystal Palace at Sydenham in South London, and within the Crystal Palace Park designed by Joseph Paxton.
The requirement for an exceptional design in glass and steel originates from an Act of Parliament dating from 1936 which requires any new building to be erected on the site to be in the spirit of the original building by Paxton, which was transferred from Hyde Park to Sydenham in 1852.
An initial developer/architect competition for the leisure centre comprising a multiplex cinema (18), restaurants and family leisure facilities was won in October 1996 by London & Regional Properties Ltd, with Chapman Taylor Architects. The Local Authority and English Heritage had made it a requirement of the developer that a new architect would have to be brought into their team to ensure that the architectural quality rose to the standard expected from the Act of Parliament.
Our concept essentially turned the previous design upside down, placing the opaque cinemas at the ground level, restaurants above with views, and roof top car parking. This approach released the potential to create an architecture of glass and steel and a building which would integrate with the landscape. It also proved to be more economical and more adaptable to change than the previous design.
Viewed from the park, the building will be seen floating upon a cascade of water, with slices through the cascade to provide entry and exits and views from the cinema complex foyer from the building. The cinema level of the building is camouflaged by the cascade.
All the building facades are of inclined colourless glass which appear as polished crystal upon water. The cars on the roof cannot be seen from the park. Belvederes occupy the perimeter of the roof, offering spectacular views across the park to the east, and central London to the west.
The form of the building has echoes of the Concert Platform which we designed and which opened in August 1997.