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World's first skyscraper design up for auction

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January 16, 2011

Charles Burton's historic skyscraper design (left) and the Crystal Palace in 1910

Charles Burton's historic skyscraper design (left) and the Crystal Palace in 1910

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While the debate continues as to whether the world's first skyscraper was the Home Insurance Building built in Chicago in 1885, or New York's seven floor Equitable Life Assurance Building built in 1870, it seems that the British pipped the Americans to the post in terms of a design. British architect Charles Burton designed a 1,000 foot (305 meter) high metal and glass building in response to a call to redesign The Crystal Palace, the famous London exhibition building, 30-odd years before the American buildings were erected.

After the Great Exhibition of 1851 it was decided to move The Crystal Palace from Hyde Park and proposals were invited to redesign the building.

Burton suggested stacking an iron frame fifty storeys high, making him the first man to suggest building a skyscraper. The designs were published in The Builder in 1851/2.

Ultimately, the iron and handblown glass Palace was transported piece by piece to Sydenham in south east London which eventually was renamed Crystal Palace. The Palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1936.

The world's first skyscraper was proposed by British architect Charles Burton in 1851

Charles Burton's architectural plan will be auctioned at the annual Bonhams Gentleman's Library Sale on 19 January, and is expected to sell for between £800-1,000 (approximately US$1,200-1,600).

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