Welcome to an attraction in London, which will open your eyes to a better future.
There is a multitude of attractions around London, but how many can claim to be educational, stimulating, inspiring and sustainable all at once? Credit must go to German conglomerate Siemens for creating The Crystal.
The multinational corporation – known for many things: high-speed trains, power station turbines, supercomputers, transport signalling systems, sophisticated medical imaging systems – also wants to be known as a leader in the development of sustainable cities and systems. And it is spending a lot of money to show the world that sustainable development is not a luxury, but a priority that all governments should be looking at.
To that end, it decided to sink in £30mil (RM150mil) towards creating a brand new facility that has become a worthy attraction in itself for those who are into sustainability.
Called The Crystal, this glass-and-steel permanent building is touted as the world’s largest exhibition dedicated to “the future of cities”.
Sitting smack within an area that is now rebranded as the Green Enterprise District, The Crystal is a landmark building that draws attention to the spate of local urban redevelopment projects bearing strong undercurrents of sustainability.
The building itself has become a credible tourist attraction as it is at the waterfront of the rejuvenated Royal Victoria Docks. In addition, it is well served by trains and buses, and is about 3km from the 2012 Olympic Park.
If you are in the mood for a special treat, do consider taking a direct cable car from the Greenwich peninsular that crosses the River Thames.
On a nice autumn afternoon, I decide to take a 20-minute walk from the Canning Town train station to visit the Siemens building, even though there is a station (Royal Victoria on the Docklands Light Railway) just three minutes away from the building.
A visit to The Crystal is a good way to spend an entire morning or afternoon in a manner that is greatly enriching to one’s mind, even if you are only mildly interested in the subject of sustainable development. The interactive exhibition guides visitors through the urban infrastructure of the future, focusing on possibilities for sustainable mobility, building technologies, energy, water supply and healthcare.
The exhibits are well thought out, and meticulously put together. The level of thoroughness is impressive, as it allows one to really dig deep into the subject if one wishes to – for example, how to manage a city from the mayor’s perspective.
At the same time, the knowledge imparted can also be available in easy-to-digest portions if one chooses to merely glance through them. It’s unlikely that one will walk out of the place without even briefly thinking of one’s impact upon the environment, and what one can do about it.
As a whole, the exhibition is engaging enough without being overwhelming on the senses.
Designed by award-winning Wilkinson Eyre Architects, this iconic building draws inspiration from the many sides of a crystal. The Crystal’s waterside location on the Royal Docks is a striking visual contrast against the surrounding skyline. The external shape of the building creates unique internal spaces, including an exhibition hall auditorium, conference facilities, meeting rooms and office spaces.
The Crystal is built in accordance with the principles of sustainable design and construction. Wherever possible, it uses the sun to generate electricity for its internal use, taps ground source heat for heating, and is fitted with energy-efficient LED lighting.
Rainwater is harvested for re-use while the entire building is ready to be connected to London’s smart grid, which is designed to help manage peak electricity demand in order to minimise emissions from electricity generation.
“The crystalline geometry of the architecture derives its inspiration from nature. The building responds to its location, visually contrasting the curve of the O2 Centre beyond. The massing of the two interlocking triangular forms generates an exciting and dynamic building from every angle as you move around the site,” wrote Chris Wilkinson, the architect.
Since its grand opening last September, The Crystal has hosted the United Nations Human Settlements Programme as well as Hubert Burda Media’s DLDcities conference. The latter stands for “Digital-Life-Design in the Urban Arena”, and explores visions for urban development and smart cities.
On a more philosophical level, the building is for everyone who cares about creating a better future for our cities.
“It inspires a dialogue about a shared sustainable future: how we live in cities, how we struggle with them, how we can make them more attractive, and balance environment, economy and quality of life,” said the company on its website.
On that count, I think The Crystal will succeed in doing what it is designed to do. Closed on Mondays, The Crystal is a must-visit place for thousands of schoolchildren as well as post-graduate students and journalists.
And the best part of all is the fact that admission is totally free (unless you request a guided tour, which charges £6/RM29 per person, with group size limited to 15). And there is no danger of going hungry while visiting, as there is an excellent cafe within the building that serves all things healthy and sustainable (including organic food, of course).
Closed on Mondays, The Crystal is located at One Siemens Brothers Way, Royal Victoria Docks. Go to thecrystal.org for more information.