© Dr Michael Philpot
CRYSTAL PALACE NATIONAL RECREATION CENTRE, CRYSTAL PALACE PARK
BROMLEY, BROMLEY, GREATER LONDON
Dr Michael Philpot
28 October 1999
02 December 1997
Date of last amendment:
02 December 1997
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TQ 37 SW CRYSTAL PALACE PARK
785/4/10031 Crystal Palace national
Sports Centre. Designed 1953-4, built 1960-4 by the LCC Architect's Department under Leslie Martin and (from 1957) Hubert Bennett; Norman Engleback (until 1960) and E R Hayes Group Leaders; B G Jones and M J Attenborough assistant designers; Sir Gerald Barry, consultant. Reinforced concrete frame, exposed externally and largely infilled with glass at upper levels, some brick below. Complex but logical plan with central 'A'-frame supporting spectator seating and reinforced concrete roof, to either side respectively baths and principal arena on two upper levels. Lower floor has squash, smaller halls, boxing booths (formerly indoor cricket facilities), changing areas and boilers. Main halls fully glazed at upper level, the ends a predominantly vertical composition of regular mullions with two thin transoms. The slightly longer side elevations more expressive, a tripartite thirteen-bay composition with thick horizontal transoms. Oversailing roof whose underside is lined in teak inside and out; the side elevations with double 'M' lozenge pattern. Entrance for participants at lowest level, with double doors (renewed); spectators enter at upper level from long raised terrace that is the principal axis of the park. Virtually detached small pool is not of special interest.
The interiors seen by spectators are of particular interest. Pool hall with central 165', eight-line racing pool; diving pool with dramatic reinforced concrete diving board (now rare) at north end; learner pool to south; the whole is the length of the building and is tiled at lower level. To one side a bank of seating (actual seats renewed) gives on to central concourse on two levels linked by stairs and corresponding bank serving smaller arena on other side. The views across this concourse and seating, and down into squash areas, are particularly impressive. Their fluidity is enhanced by the bold expression of the 'A'-frame and delicate arched bracing supporting the roof which is a most distinctive and distinguished feature.
In 1951 the LCC took over the derelict site of the old exhibitions centre from the Crystal Palace Trust. Sir Gerald Barry, director of the Festival of Britain, was commissioned to advise on the best use of the land. His proposed new exhibition centre was not adopted, but the LCC did take up his idea of using the drained lake area in the middle of the gardens as a centre for recreational sports and training, with some residential facilities.
Emphasis was given to swimming as Southern England did not have an Olympic-sized pool. It was the first indoor multi-functional hall designed in Britain (though not the first to be built) at a time when such facilities did not exist elsewhere in Europe. Crystal Palace is exceptional in the breadth of its vision, not only in the range of facilities carefully planned within it but also in being intended to serve serious performers from all nations (there is separate residential accommodation in the park) as well as local enthusiasts.
(Architect and Building News: 18 November 1954: 614; Architects' Journal: 2 December 1954: 672-6; Architects' Journal: 12 August 1964: 387-99; Architects' Journal: 26 April 1967: 1021-27).