Here's a view of the Crystal Palace, a cast-iron and plate-glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851.
This is part of Ruskin's response to the edifice:
For three hundred years, the art of architecture has been the subject of the most curious investigation; its principles have been discussed with all earnestness and acuteness; its models in all countries and of all ages have been examined with scrupulous care, and imitated with unsparing expenditure. And of all this refinement of inquiry,--this lofty search after the ideal,--this subtlety of investigation and sumptuousness of practice,--the great result, the admirable and long-expected conclusion is, that in the center of the 19th century, we suppose ourselves to have invented a new style of architecture, when we have magnified a conservatory!
It is to this, then, that our Doric and Palladian pride is at last reduced! We have vaunted the divinity of the Greek ideal--we have plumed ourselves on the purity of our Italian taste--we have cast our whole souls into the proportions of pillars and the relations of orders--and behold the end! Our taste, thus exalted and disciplined, is dazzled by the luster of a few rows of panes of glass; and the first principles of architectural sublimity, so far sought, are found all the while to have consisted merely in sparkling and in space.
Let it not be thought that I would depreciate (were it possible to depreciate) the mechanical ingenuity which has been displayed in the erection of the Crystal Palace, or that I underrate the effect which its vastness may continue to produce on the popular imagination. But mechanical ingenuity is not the essence either of painting or architecture, and largeness of dimension does not necessarily involve nobleness of design. There is assuredly as much ingenuity required to build a screw frigate, or a tubular bridge, as a hall of glass;--all these are works characteristic of the age; and all, in their several ways, deserve our highest admiration, but not admiration of the kind that is rendered to poetry or to art. We may cover the German Ocean with frigates, and bridge the Bristol Channel with iron, and roof the county of Middlesex with crystal, and yet not possess one Milton, or Michael Angelo.
Well, it may be replied, we need our bridges, and have pleasure in our palaces; but we do not want Miltons, nor Michael Angelos.
Truly, it seems so; for, in the year in which the first Crystal Palace was built, there died among us a man whose name, in after-ages, will stand with those of the great of all time [Turner]. Dying, he bequeathed to the nation the whole mass of his most cherished works; and for these three years, while we have been building this colossal receptacle for casts and copies of the art of other nations, these works of our own greatest painter have been left to decay in a dark room near Cavendish Square, under the custody of an aged servant.
This is quite natural. But it is also memorable.
There is another interesting fact connected with the history of the Crystal Palace as it bears on that of the art of Europe, namely, that in the year 1851, when all that glittering roof was built, in order to exhibit the paltry arts of our fashionable luxury--the carved bedsteads of Vienna, and glued toys of Switzerland, and gay jewelry of France--in that very year, I say, the greatest pictures of the Venetian masters were rotting at Venice in the rain, for want of roof to cover them, with holes made by cannon shot through their canvas.
There is another fact, however, more curious than either of these, which will hereafter be connected with the history of the palace now in building; namely, that at the very period when Europe is congratulated on the invention of a new style of architecture, because fourteen acres of ground have been covered with glass, the greatest examples in existence of true and noble Christian architecture are being resolutely destroyed, and destroyed by the effects of the very interest which was beginning to be excited by them.
Photo of the interior of the Crystal Palace - The Nubian Court