The Crystal is Siemens’ showcase for sustainable cities, featuring leading technologies, ideas and best practices. Opened in late 2012 and housed in a stunning glass shell on the banks of the River Thames at the Royal Victorian Docks in London, this museum and office building helps visitors view the future of urban life and the array of megatrends that must be addressed now and in the near future.
I visited the Crystal last month along with our Assistant Editor Joe Petrie. On the way, as we waited to cross the street, a bold sign painted on the curb warned us to look right for traffic. Although we anticipated the change in traffic flow, when you’ve looked left your entire life, it’s surprisingly disconcerting to have traffic coming from the wrong direction. After years of conditioning, our brains are wired for certain expectations.
Arriving at the Crystal and touring the exhibits was just as disconcerting. Meant to shake us from doing business as usual — literally looking at things the same way — we experienced startling depictions of our urban future if cities continue to operate and evolve at the current rate. Maintaining the status quo looks bleak unless we make bold leaps forward in implementing new technologies to power, transport and support life.
Joe and I operated a simulated city but it was a brief reign in office. Despite our transit backgrounds and good intentions, in no time at all we bankrupted our city and brought it to a halt. Apparently we increased the services we deemed important, but the city budget couldn’t support our priorities. Maybe that was too realistic.
The Crystal is an all-electric building assessed as BREEAM Outstanding and LEED Platinum with a state-of-the-art building management system to control every aspect of operations. In addition to being a showcase for the application of new technologies, the Crystal serves as an ongoing laboratory to test and document every aspect of the equipment in real everyday use.
Decarbonized electricity generation through solar and wind — both on and off grid — is our future. As we toured this Siemens' showcase, immersing ourselves in what are likely the electrically-powered systems that will make our cities sustainable, I concluded we’re heading in the right direction, only we need to accelerate the pace a bit if we’re to avoid the outcome of our simulated city.