London seems one step closer to resurrecting Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, the iconic cast-iron and glass pavilion built to host the Great Exhibition of 1851. Mayor Boris Johnson has just announced a shortlist of six finalists for a competition to construct a 900,000-square-foot replica of the storied palace, with big-name firms like Zaha Hadid and David Chipperfield making the cut.Richard Rogers, Grimshaw, Haworth Tompkins, and Marks Barfield round out the short list of London firms hoping to revive this historically significant structure.
Possible reconstruction of the Crystal Palace
Joseph Paxton, the Crystal Palace
Considering Crystal Palace's place in the public imagination as a symbol of British industry and innovation, it's understandable that London officials would want to resuscitate the glass pavilion's esteemed grandeur. Yet it's not London's government financing the £500 million masterplan. It's not even a Londoner. The full scope of the project was actually devised by Ni Zhaoxing, the billionaire owner of Shanghai-based real estate giant ZhongRong Holdings.
The situation has many Londoners wondering: Why is one of the richest men in China financing a project so specific to British identity? Zhaoxing has already built 78 "European-style" palaces in Beijing, and his desire to expand to London has people concerned about what he stands to gain in terms of profits. (Locals aren't thrilled about an entirely commercial project overtaking one of the city's last great green spaces either.)
However, Zhaoxing's involvement in the reconstruction of the Crystal Palace embodies a greater anxiety steeped in the recent history of London's built environment. Over the last decade, London's skyline has grown taller with the construction of numerous new shiny towers (frequently accompanied by comical nicknames). Yet, many of these expensive projects have been funded by oversees investors, taking the future of London's skyline largely out of the hands of those who inhabit the city.
Furthermore, the funding for many of these skyscrapers has come from oil-rich countries with a history of corruption and human rights violations. Since property values in London have soared while the UK's economy recovers from a particularly harsh recession, funding from oversees continues to exert control over London's architectural future. The Crystal Palace is only the latest example. Here's a look at some other foreign jewels in the British capital's skyline.
Designed to "inspire change" across London, Renzo Piano's Shard currently stands as the tallest building in Europe. The gleaming tower of glass was meant to symbolize London's future. Yet, the property is jointly owned by London's Sellar Properties and the state of Qatar. Reportedly, a sovereign wealth fund in Qatar poured $2.3 billion into the Shard, even though the project failed to attract full occupancy.
The small Arab state has seen its own built environment expand over the last decade, with countless new projects built to establish a stronger international identity. Still, many of these buildings have been constructed at the expense of migrant laborers form South Asia, who are routinely subjected to deplorable working conditions. The Shard represents Qatar's expanding influence in London, and the building has been decried as an imposing monument to wealth and power.
One Hyde Park
The modernist-inspired One Hyde Park built by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partnersin the Knightsbridge area of London brought state-of-the-art residences and office spaces to the city's residents and commuters. Like the Shard, One Hyde Park was a joint venture, with half of the funding coming fromSheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar, who has shown a growing interest in the future of London. The 53-year old anglophile already owns some of London's most prestigious residences and recently became the head of the Qatar Investment Authority, which has overseen foreign investment of billions of dollars into some of London's most important institutions, like Sainsbury's, Barclays, Shell, and the London Stock Exchange.
Upon its unveiling, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a 114.5-meter-tall rollercoaster-like sculpture designed by Anish Kapor for the 2012 London Olympics, attracted polarized reactions. Many critics said that the outlandish design was a monument to the egos of its developers, with some even condemning it as a worthless piece of fascist gigantism.
Adding to the tower's negative reception was the fact that £16 million of the £19.1 million project was funded by London-based Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, the world's sixth-richest person, who had come under fire for numerous reports of human rights violations. Many of Mittal's employees have accused the tycoon of practicing slave labor conditions after multiple fatalities occurred in his mines.In December 2004, 23 miners were killed in explosions in Mittal-owned mines with faulty gas detectors in Kazakhstan.
The Pinnacle Tower
If constructed, Kohn Pedersen Fox's proposal for the Pinnacle Tower in London would stand as the second-tallest building in the city. However, due to of a lack of proper funding, the "helter-skelter" design for this glassy new skyscraper has been halted. Still, the Economic Development Corporation of Saudi Arabia has pledge to partly fund the project in return for a 90% stake hold in the property as the wealthy nation continues to expand its influence outside the Middle East.
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