Sir Joseph Paxton had acquired an international reputation for the Crystal Palace, his iconic structure created for the first Great Exhibition held in London in 1851. This huge construction, the first to use industrial techniques, is still remembered as a symbolic and ground-breaking monument for its transparency and its lightness, making Paxton the most famous architect, along with Gustave Eiffel, in the history of metal construction.
After the first Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1855, when the Palace of Industry had proved a great disappointment, France approached Sir Joseph Paxton in 1860, along with Owen Jones who had designed the interior of the Crystal Palace, with a view to producing a design for a permanent exhibition centre for French industrial products. This vast edifice was to have been erected in the Park of Saint-Cloud, but the construction of the Musée de Sèvres put an end to this scheme in 1863.
It was certainly as a result of this aborted project that the French government asked Paxton to produce an initial study for the construction of a crystal palace on the Champ de Mars for the 1867 Universal Exhibition. Here, he presents a version that is reminiscent of the famous London structure, but with turrets and covered pavilions overlooking the roofs. The interior is a completely open space; only the supporting iron columns are fixed. The building can easily be made smaller or larger, and be adapted for any site or any type of event. The overall length is 593 metres, and the width 303 metres.
Paxton died two months after finishing this design, which would never see the light of day. All we have is this detailed and accomplished drawing, very rare in the work of this engineer, a perfect illustration of the glass and iron architecture brought in by the 19th century.