Last week I paid a visit to the Crystal, a brand-new centre of sustainability that opened its doors to the city of London September of this year. The initiative was created by global company Siemens with the hope that it would serve as a focal point for local urban redevelopment projects. It would seem appropriate then that the Crystal is based in London’s Green Enterprise District.
I had the opportunity to speak to Anne Keogh, Head of External Relations at the Crystal, to learn a little bit more about the centre. “The concept came up as an idea in 2010, so only two years ago and we announced in spring 2010, together with Boris Johnson the mayor of London and Sir Robin Wales the mayor of Newham, that we would have the building ready for 2012,” she said.
The design of the building draws inspiration from the multi-faced structure of a crystal, and is meant to represent ‘the many facets of sustainability and the complexity of urban life’. The result is a beautiful and complex work of architecture that provides a striking contrast from the surrounding skyline.
The all-electric building houses an exhibition hall auditorium, conference facilities, meeting rooms and office spaces. The Crystal has no reliance on fossil fuels, instead it uses solar power and ground source heat pumps to generate its own energy. The architect focused on the use of natural light and insulation to maximise energy efficiency. “We reckon we are on track to use 50% less electricity than a comparable office space,” revealed Anne.
The Crystal is a £30 million investment by Siemens, and is the flagship if their Infrastructure and Cities Sector. “One of the reasons Siemens chose to build and position the Crystal in London was because the UK government and London have such strong ambitions to reduce CO2 and to be leaders in green technology.” According to the Green Cities Index, a study sponsored by Siemens, London is ranked as 11th greenest city in Europe.
The Crystal features a free, high-tech exhibition that aims to educate about the technologies and solutions that can help to improve urban life and sustainability. Covering 2,00 square metres it has two immersive film theatres and interactive screens that let visitors play games and explore the cities of the future. “One of the big challenges we had to overcome is that we wanted to reach so many audiences, from school children right through to the mayor of Shanghai or city experts,” explains Anne.
The structure is also home to Siemen’s Center of Competence Cities, a team of multi-disciplinary urban experts. Their aim is to bring people from all around the world together to share their ideas and expertise, to find solutions to particular cities’ needs. “It’s really interesting to see that there’s no one city that is perfect and we all have lessons to learn from each other,” she said.
As an example and showcase for sustainable architecture, The Crystal is an intriguing development in our understanding of ways that we can more strive to live more sustainably.