The Crystal view from Emirates airway

The Mayor of Newham describes the Crystal as a visitor attraction that will:

“ put the Royal Docks on the national and international stage as a place for supporting new technology and innovation.”

I visited the centre today and there is a scrap of A4 paper sellotaped onto the window giving the opening times.  Search their website or even their glossy book you can find how to get there but not when its open. Having noticed the scrap of paper I know that it is open 10.00 to 17.00 Monday to Saturday.  It is not open on Sunday. Helpfully, I informed  the staff that opening times were not listed on the website.

The Crystal is a sustainable initiative by Siemens that boasts the largest exhibition space for the development of sustainable cities. If you approach the Crystal on the Emirates cable car you get a great view of the building and its scale. The exhibition space itself is much smaller than you imagine and I think this adds to the general disappointment.

Mayor Johnson’s aspiration is that the Crystal is the heart of a new Green Enterprise District that will encourage new low carbon businesses. There are financial incentives for businesses moving into this zone through business rate relief.  All very laudable and aspirations that most people can sign up to. Yet, the exhibition itself is dull.

To access much of the multi-media exhibition you require a Crystal Key.  Only the staff have these. Once you locate an exhibit that you are interested in you need to find staff to start it with their key.  The staff did explain that in time the public will be given their own keys.  I was interested in the Green City Index. In my endeavour to find out more about it I found a very helpful member of staff to get the thing started.  I managed to see the introduction three times but even with staff helping could not move the program on to the important section which gave you details about what constituted the index.

The exhibition relies significantly on computer generated images which superficially look good. There is a dome like space that looks promising.  Images are projected on the curved spaces and the floor. I knew no more about sustainability when I left this space as I did when I entered.   The target audience for the exhibition is “everyone who cares about creating a sustainable future” and it should cater for every group from community interest groups to school children and post-graduate students.  Yet much of the learning is dependent upon reading the content on either the screens or the walls.  There is little or no interactive, problem solving approaches to learning.

There was little to connect the exhibition in a practical way to the sustainable projects that are in the immediate vicinity.  Less than a 15 minute walk from the Crystal is the Bow Creek Ecology Park. This former ironworks, shipyard and coal wharf is now a wildlife haven in the urban environment.

I hope that the project will develop in a way that fulfills the aspiration.  If it does not this will be a mere vanity project for Siemens.