Sitting across the heart of the Royal Victoria Docks in east London, with all its glory is The Crystal. Owned by the Great London Authority and run by Siemens, the Crystal is part of the Green Enterprise District Policy that covers much of east London. 

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The Crystal that spreads itself into the network to create a social urban platform_Wilkinson Eyre

Epitomizing Siemens’ expertise in green technology, the Crystal boasts the record of being the first building to achieve the highest sustainable building accolades from the world’s two leading accreditation bodies, BREEAM and LEED. Designed by Wilkinson Eyre, the glazed and edgy structure in all its glory is a new forum for debate on sustainable urban living and development.

Planning

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Design sketches showing key features of the Crystal_Wilkinson Eyre

The Crystal, with its crystalline shape representing the complexities and challenges, was derived from the multi-faceted urban life through its design. Sporting triangular glass-panelled facets, the Crystal includes two parallelogram structures. The reflective material on the façade was designed to create a dynamic visual effect on the waterfront. 

Each wing has a similar external geometry, with walls and roofs composed of multiple triangular planes, intended to represent facets of sustainability and the complexity of urban life. In collaboration with interior architects Pringle Brandon Perkins + Will, the Crystal sheaths inside it a variety of functions including – exhibition areas, a Conference Centre with a 270-seat auditorium, office spaces, and a café. 

The open to public extensive display spaces are situated on the north of the central circulation space. The private office and conference facilities are used for the Siemens Global of Competence Cities. The structure houses inside it 2 separate ‘crystals’ – respectively for exhibitions and the other for offices/conferences. 

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Plan showing the 270 seater theatre, column free spaces and the basic geometry of the Crystal_Wilkinson Eyre

The edgy and angular skin of the building creates interesting and challenging interior spaces carefully planned out and designed by the interior designers PBP+W. A large mezzanine with a sensory film experience theatre enclosed within a white curved fabric shape is the exhibition space. These spaces were carefully designed with the involvement of exhibition designers Event, designing the infrastructure that supports the operations of the exhibition displays. 

With its focus on sustainability, Crystal further concretes this idea by being designed to adapt and respond as technology evolves. For example, the Crystal is designed considering the prospect of linking London’s future smart grids and the roof-mounted Photovoltaic panels that could be easily changed to more efficient arrays in the future. 

The sophisticated building management system enables the Crystal for the post-occupancy evaluation process and closely monitors the functioning of the building for the fine-tuning working of the building to utilize less energy.

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Situation plan showing the Crystal blending with the urban areas_Wilkinson Eyre

Materials and Construction

With an enhanced focus on the use of advanced technology and smart building management systems to minimize energy use, the all-glass building challenges conventional ideas on sustainability. To moderate solar gain and frame views into and out of the building, six different types of highly insulated glass have been used in the cladding, each with varying levels of transparency. 

To minimize Solar rays from directly piercing through the glass panels, reflective glass is used on the surfaces which are angled to face the sun, while transparent glass is used on the faces that are angled away from the sun, towards the ground. 

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View of the Crystal from the Emirates Cable Car_Wilkinson Eyre

The structure of the crystal, designed by Arup Group, is composed of two steel-frame parallelogram wings clad in glass curtain walling. To maximize column-free space box-section columns are placed along the roof ridge which tapers in different axes, top, and bottom. They are narrower in the bottom against the direction of cross beams, and wider in the perpendicular direction at the bottom, cantilevering from their bases, providing strength top and bottom and rigidity under wind loading. 

The foundation of the building is set on 160 contiguous flight au continuous auger piles, 21m deep along with Plastic U-pipes embedded in the reinforced concrete of the piles that act as heat exchangers in the geothermal heating system. Box sections, prefabricated from precision-cut plate have been used for all the primary steelwork, including the 28 columns and the edge and ridge beams. 

The frame design was optimized for minimal steel usage and speed of erection. Despite all the pre-construction building models and designs, 85 percent of the roof connections were welded in situ, with special attention paid to the final appearance.

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Section showing the mezzanine floor and the scale of room volume in the Crystal_Wilkinson Eyre

Sustainability

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Interior spaces using smart lighting to manage light and ventilation efficiency_Wilkinson Eyre

An exhibit on its own, the Crystal has set the benchmark for sustainability and the advancements in smart technology by being the first building to achieve Outstanding BREEAM accreditation and Platinum LEED accreditation the highest sustainable building accolades from the world’s two leading accreditation bodies, LEED and BREEAM. Apart from the Crystal Building Energy Management System that controls all mechanical and electrical systems in the building for maximum energy utilization and less wastage, information from an outdoor weather station supplements the data input points within the Crystal. 

Heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems, Weather stations, Lighting controls, Ground source heat pumps, Solar thermal hot water systems, Black and rainwater systems, Fire alarm and evacuation systems, Photovoltaic systems are all operated by the Energy management system.

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Integrated room control _ABTEC Building technologies

The Heating and cooling systems are dependent on a system of pipes that run a total length of 17 km and reach as deep as 150 m to transfer heat in and out of the surface. To state some numbers, the Crystal recovers around 60% of the energy used for heating and cooling and is also done using 100% natural heat resources. 

Light and Ventilation

Thanks to its glass envelope almost every space inside the Crystal has access to natural daylight, and due to the use of these high-performance solar glasses, 70% of light is let in shutting out most of the solar energy. The complex lighting systems sense and adjust every individual lamp to provide comfortable brightness levels without wasting electricity while using a combination of 65% fluorescent and 35% LED lights.

The Building management system also detects outdoor and indoor weather conditions, and also uses natural ventilation for ventilation through automatic windows to create the most suitable energy-efficient ventilation mode.

Water

It is safe to say that only 10 % of the water used in The Crystal is sourced from the public main thanks to its Rainwater Collection System, Blackwater processing System and also the added energy saving on heating the water using solar thermal and ground source heating pumps.

Energy

The crystal maintains its benchmark on energy savings by being 100% electric and producing 20% of its energy using photovoltaic cells that cover 20% of its roof. Every kilowatt of power consumed by the Crystal is compared and monitored to keep its energy conservation standards and does it by consuming 70% less energy compared to comparable offices in the UK.

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Blind actuators reducing the workload of air conditioning_ Abtec Building technologies

References

The Crystal: one of the most sustainable buildings in the world. (2013). [online] Available at: https://www.thecrystal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/The-Crystal-Sustainability-Features.pdf.

WilkinsonEyre (2020). The Crystal. [online] WilkinsonEyre. Available at: https://www.wilkinsoneyre.com/projects/the-crystal.

www.isgltd.com. (n.d.). The Crystal – one of the world’s greenest buildings. [online] Available at: https://www.isgltd.com/en/who-we-are/sustainability/case-study/sustainability-the-crystal [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021].

www.engineering-timelines.com. (n.d.). Engineering Timelines – The Crystal. [online] Available at: http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=1446 [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021].

Wikipedia. (2020). The Crystal. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crystal.

Abtec Building Technologies. (n.d.). The Crystal London, KNX, DALI and IP Networking. [online] Available at: http://www.abtecbt.com/crystal-london/.

Chandler, A. (n.d.). Abtec Building Technologies: Case Study Crystal Clear “Working with Abtec has been a pleasure. The team’s project management skills, signifi cant KNX, DALI and IP networking exper se make Abtec easy to recommend for other projects” expert IT and KNX knowledge. [online] . Available at: http://www.abtecbt.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/The-Crystal-Case-Study-final.pdf.

ArchDaily. (2012). The Crystal / Wilkinson Eyre Architects. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/275111/the-crystal-wilkinson-eyre-architects.

Author

Darsan Babu, an architect, dreamer and a storyteller who loves to take on challenges and reform perspectives on some days, but sit by the mountain and quote words of Howard Roark on others. Would love to explore all things architecture, educate and shape the Urbanscape soon enough.

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