The Crystal Palace

Victoria Szabo, Raquel Salvatella de Prada, The Visualization Technology Group, The Virtual Realities FOCUS


This project seeks to consider the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a place constructed in a highly determined space located in the physical and metaphorical heart of British colonial power. Famous both for the building itself, Paxton’s Crystal Palace, and the diverse objects and people from around the world that it contained, the Exhibition is nonetheless difficult to study as a spatial phenomenon due to its sheer complexity and scope. The diverse array of artworks, artifacts, machines, inventions, craft objects and human tableaux that were shown are richly documented in planning documents, photos, paintings, catalogs, engravings, new stories, travel narratives, and imaginative literature; the building itself is a favorite of architectural historians and engineers, who have reconstructed it in 3D numerous times.

This project attempts to brings together those approaches through an annotated virtual reconstruction of the Crystal Palace, to be populated by both the objects it contained, and the “users” who traversed it, in order to ask questions about the rhetoric of the place itself as a site of cultural self-representation and experience. Because no one technology adequately addresses this goal, our approaches brings together GIS and Google Earth assisted thematic maps and views of the content, contributor networks, and visitors to the Exhibition, as well as populated 3D immersive models to be experienced through the DiVE, virtual worlds and game environments. Underlying all of these will be a common database substrate of annotation and documentation, ideally accessible from any “view” – whether a website, 3D model, map, or immersive game-space.