World’s smartest buildings: Siemens’ The Crystal, London

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Alice Cruickshank

East London is known for its industrial heritage, but as the city works to regenerate the area, one building hopes to set the benchmark with its environmental credentials.

Siemens’ The Crystal on Victoria Docks is at the heart of London’s Green Enterprise District, and is the first building globally to reach both BREEAM Outstanding and LEED Platinum status for sustainability.

Crystal London Exterior

The Great Exhibition reimagined

The Crystal cost a cool £30m to build and was opened in 2012. Designed by Wilkinson Eyre architects, the building takes its name and design from the many sides of a crystal. It is also inspired by Crystal Palace and its Great Exhibition – the space was created to exhibit Siemens’ environmental portfolio of technology. Inside the 75,000 sq ft space is an exhibition zone, auditorium, conference facilities, meeting rooms and office spaces.

The exhibition space showcases interactive films exploring a range of environmental issues, such as water, transport, energy, environment and healthcare. The Future Life gallery depicts how London will look like in 2050, and the technology the city will be utilising.

Crystal London Solar Panels

More than 5,000 sq ft of solar panels cover the roof of The Crystal

Leading London’s sustainability revolution

The Crystal is an all-electric building that uses more than 5,000 sq ft of solar photovoltaic panels and a ground source heat pump to generate its own energy.

The Crystal’s building management system monitors every kilowatt of electricity used. This can then be compared with the performance of other buildings across the world. Siemens claims it maintains CO2 emissions that are around 70% lower than in similar office buildings in the UK.

The Crystal’s windowed exterior uses triple layered, high performance solar glass which allows around 70% of visible light through each window but only about 30% of the solar energy.

The sizeable amount of natural daylight which enters the building means minimal artificial light is needed. An advanced lighting control system produced by Siemens automatically adjusts every individual lamp to provide comfortable brightness levels without wasting electricity.

The Crystal Building Energy Management System senses indoor and outdoor conditions and then controls the most suitable, energy efficient ventilation mode for each part of the building. At moderate temperatures, natural ventilation is used and the windows open automatically. At low or high temperatures the windows close and an interior ventilation system takes over.

To minimise water waste, the building is equipped with water efficient fittings and low use taps, while rainwater is collected and treated for use as drinking water. A wastewater recycling plant repurposes 100% of the water in the building for use in toilets, and a sustainable drainage system reduces the amount of water being sent to sewers.

The Crystal: a working showcase of the future

Siemens is trying to reinvent itself as a world leader in sustainable technology, and The Crystal is the jewel in its environmental crown.

The whole building acts as a peephole to the future, or at least Siemens’ imagining of it, with the space’s Future Life exhibition showcasing life in the capital 30 years from now, while the building itself provides a living example of buildings of the future.

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