The Crystal – What a clever building!

Posted By Martin Jones

27 July 2015 - 7:53am

The Crystal is located on the waterfront at the western end of the Royal Victoria Docks in East London – the heart of London’s Enterprise District. A multi-million pound investment, the Crystal acts as a global think tank where engineers and city experts can collaborate on projects that drive sustainable urban innovation, and in which technology can be used to create a better future for all our cities.

2050 is far enough off to imagine the urban environment will be very different from today. But, from current trends, we know a few things are likely. Three-quarters of people will live in a city, or 6.75 billion of the projected 9 billion global total. Everyone will have grown up with the Internet, and its successors. And city residents will have access to less natural resources than today, making regeneration and efficiency more of a priority.

Designed by award-winning Wilkinson Eyre Architects, the Crystal’s iconic, glass-clad shape was inspired by the multiple, angular sides of a crystal. The building has been developed to be one of the most sustainable in the world and is aiming to achieve top LEED and BREEAM scores – the most stringent standards for sustainable design and construction. An all-electric building, the Crystal uses solar power and ground-source heat pumps to generate its own energy, meaning that no fossil fuels are burned in the building. The building also incorporates rainwater harvesting, black-water treatment, solar water heating and an intelligent building management system.

The building looks like two giant crystals merged together and has 50% office/corporate space and 50% exhibition centre with a café, conference rooms and an auditorium – a large bright red structure separate but at the heart of the building. This shiny stealth bomber of a building is also the £30 million home of German technology behemoth Siemens’ Global Centre of Competence in Cities – basically the most amazing showcase for their numerous technologies in transportation, energy generation, infrastructure and healthcare etc.

But enough about all the technical stuff. I went along to the BIFM Sustainability SIG event last week where we got a whirlwind tour of the building followed by a brief taster of the exhibition – initially bombarding us with a series of films shown in this surround sound cocoon like pod where the images alternate from underfoot up or down from the ceiling onto a concave screen to really bring home demographic change, urbanisation and climate change. The solutions are then presented in eight zones of touch screen interactive exhibits leaving one firmly re-assured that the future is not going to be so bad after all!

It was a great evening and a big thank you to Siemens’ Ops Manager, Steve and his team who wowed us with their enthusiasm and the facts & figures. Did you know that no one piece of the external glass is the same shape? I should also mention Sodexo supplied an impressive selection of cakes and cookies - although I am not sure wine is the ideal accompaniment for them!

I can highly recommend the Crystal to anyone who has even a passing interest in the future of our cities and the technologies that increasingly dominate our existence. Go there by the new Emirates Airline cable car, which on a clear day or night is spectacular and not half as confusing as the Docklands Light Railway. There is something almost science fiction like travelling in this part of East London by air with the O2 Dome across the river, London City Airport a stone throw away – all are strange places, that carry the atmosphere of being dreamed-up somewhere else. They have never quite taken root, spawning infrastructure around them that makes the area feel strange but exciting: it’s full of flashy bridges, large areas of privately owned, low-maintenance public space and car parks.

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