The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Crystal Palace, Britain ‘s first sports centre to be demolished. South London’s best public building is threatened

The Twentieth Century Society has learned that England ‘s first purpose built sports centre is threatened with demolition. The London Development Agency (LDA) in co-operation with the Borough of Bromley and the Greater London Authority are drawing up plans to tear down the National Sports Centre. Sport England , the current leaseholder, will withdraw in two years time. In the meantime LDA develops plans for a new, possible smaller sports centre on site. The successful existing building, much used and appreciated by professional swimmers as well as schools, is at risk.

The National Sports Centre was built to designs of the LCC under Leslie Martin and opened in 1964. At the time of its opening it was lauded as the finest of its kind in Britain. A sculptural flying roof crowns an elegantly structured façade of slim concrete beams. The grade II* listed building is an impressive structure comprising of a 50 metres pool as well as a dry area for ball games. A concrete ‘A’-frame holds together a single space that allows breathtaking views across the entire hall. The NSC was highly influential in British post-war architecture: its design influenced many successful schemes all over Britain , including the Sports Centre at Swiss Cottage and the Coventry Central Baths.

The LDA claims that due to high maintenance costs of £2m a year the building cannot be kept. Instead LDA suggests demolishing and rebuilding. But the building is structurally sound and functioning well. The real reason for the proposed demolition is fuelled by an aesthetic judgment: local action groups find the NSC ugly, and the council and LDA want to modernise the park. By doing this they will lose a great building that is one of the best examples of Britain ‘s architectural and sportive heritage.

For more information and pictures please contact Cordula Zeidler, Caseworker, on 020 7250 3857, email: cordula.zeidler(at)

Note to editors: The article quoted on the original design appeared in the Architectural Review , May 1967