Good Design | The Crystal exhibition

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During a weekend adventure with a friend on the DLR (as you do), I found myself in the deepest depths of east London, when a large glass building caught our attention. We had chanced upon what can only be described as a hidden gem – excuse the pun.

The Crystal is a building built by Siemens as part of their sustainable cities initiative and is dubbed one of the greenest buildings in the world; featuring technologies in rainwater harvesting, blackwater recycling, electricity generation and storage. Impressive, but the reason this building is a must-see is because it houses one of the most comprehensive educational resources of our time; in the form of a hi-tech, interactive exhibition. But what is it all about?

“For the first time in human history, more than half of humanity live in cities and the number is growing fast – 2 people per second; 200,000 people a day.”

The Crystal exhibition

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The exhibition is about Urban Sustainability. The world’s cities are growing – every day more and more people move to urban areas in the search of opportunities for work, making them a force for economic growth. But growth in turn leads to an increase in consumption and not surprisingly, cities are accountable for 80% the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Consideration for the way in which we design our cities is essential. They will have a great impact on the environment, climate change and the quality of life of future generations. It is highlighted that a balance between these key factors must be met in order to support a growing population. We are asked questions such as: how can cities evolve without damaging our climate? What is the role of business? And how can we contribute as individuals?

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Guiding you through a series of interactive zones it is a university education crammed into one exhibition. You can experience planning and managing a city, build your own ‘smart’ building, generate your own energy and learn how to reduce your water and carbon footprint. Delivered through fun games and challenges (and who doesn’t love a challenge?), you get a valuable insight into the systems and complexities upon which our cities are built. Since being flagged as a ‘high water user’ during the water footprint game, I have been taking shorter showers and cooling drinking water in the fridge instead of running tap water to cool it off.

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The fascinating visualisations in the ‘future cities’ zone show us how global challenges can be solved with ideas and technology. I was interested to find out that people use 40% of global energy in buildings. Changing our buildings to energy efficient ‘smart buildings’ could make our future cities a lot more economically competitive. Governments have a role to play with building standards, but it is also down to individuals to change our attitudes towards our own energy consumption: improving our buildings, reducing waste, energy and water consumption at home and at work

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After taking a public fall from grace back in 2006 amidst corruption charges, Siemens has come back strong. Much like an individual, obstacles sometimes prove to be more beneficial in the long term; forcing us to question and re-evaluate our goals. With The Crystal, Siemens certainly seems to have redefined their business as one contributing towards society and good for them! But good for us too, as I think the Crystal will become a significant educational resource for sustainable development in cities for years to come. I’ve already been twice and will definitely be going again – it’s essential viewing in my book.