The Crystal by Siemens

Situated on Royal Victoria Dock in East London, The Crystal is a project by Siemens on sustainability. It features a permanent exhibition on sustainable development, analysing how cities perform in regards to consumption of natural resources, pollution and transport and it aims to promote an Eco-friendly approach to urban planning.


The Crystal

The experience starts with an explanation on the building’s construction and how it functions to be “one of the world’s most sustainable buildings” (The Crystal,2015). The exhibition is interactive, by entering the space the viewer gets an electronic card, which,  activates specific elements such as visuals, audio and games if swiped through the respective card readers.

The exhibition is allocated in a vast open space, only divided by some walls which create sections, each relating to a different topic.  There is no beginning and no end, no set direction in which the visitor should move through the space. I felt slightly overwhelmed by the amount of things shown and wandered through not knowing what to look at first.

Among various topics the exhibition draws light upon water consumption, a problem I often think about. Although 3/4 of our planet is covered in water, only 2.5% of it is useful for our consumption,since the majority is salt water. Most of that 2.5% is actually locked in glaciers and groundwater, which leaves us access to a percentage of just 0.75 of water. Instinctively I thought we are directly to blame for the high amount of consumption since we all drink, shower, and use water consuming domestic appliances. Instead, the most water consuming sector is agriculture, which accounts for nearly 70% of water consumption. Although only 8% of water is directed for domestic and personal use, I still think there is a lot everyone of us could do to decrease water consumption.


Unfortunately a lot of water is wasted just because of negligence and because we are all too spoiled to worry about it. We are brutally exploiting our planet in so many different ways and water is just one of the many resources we should handle with much more care. From small actions such as closing the tap while brushing our teeth, to major improvements such as monitoring pipe leaks throughout urban areas, there is always something we can do to contribute to change.

A water pipe with several leaks intended to sensitise the audience to water waste. One could walk around the pipe and stop leaking by stepping on buttons on the floor. It stressed how collaboration is key when trying to achieve actual change, since one person was not enough to stop all leaks (one button would only stop one single leak, and buttons were too far away from each other for a person to be able to step on multiple buttons at a time).



This installation made me think of my home city Rome. Rome is ranked 19th in the water category (with the first place being the city with least water consumption). Although water consumption per head is not excessively high, the water system has leakages, “about 40% of water is lost during distribution”(The Crystal, 2016). It also made me think of something I always noticed in Rome since I was a child: the “nasoni” (literally: big noses), which are typical drinking fountains in Rome.

nasoneThere are around 2500 in the city, some of them are really old and therefore carry a historic and artistic value. Although Acea (2012), which is responsible for most of the water supply in the city, states that only 0.7% of the drinking water distributed to the city goes to the fountains and argues that “the continuous flow of water is an indisputable plus as regards health and hygiene standards, since when the water continues to flow at an adequate speed it remains in the system for less time and maintains a constantly cool temperature.”  Furthermore Acea asserts that some of the water gets recycled to water lawns and flowerbeds in parks. There have been some interventions to replace some of the fountains’ taps with closable ones. Yet the majority remains original with a continuous flow. I definitely think it is not responsible to have water continuously flowing

The exhibition touched many interesting topics which we should all be aware of. Although much of the information gave me a negative feeling and made me feel guilty on how bad we treat our planet, there was still a positive forward looking attitude. It showed how some cities are already doing a lot to lower their ecological footprint and proposed several ways to become more sustainable.

Definitely worth a visit!




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