Open-access content Monday 11th March 2013 — updated 4.00pm, Tuesday 26th May 2020
Siemens' temple of sustainability is the jewel in the crown of the London Green Enterprise District. But, as Lucy Black discovers, certain aspects could have been improved by consulting an FM.
11 March 2013
The Crystal sparkles in the sunlight as you approach along the Royal Victoria Dock, London, where people now paddle-board, rather than unload ships.
Some visitors arrive on the Emirates' Air Line cable-car system, open since June 2012, which connects the site to the Thames' southern bank at the O2 arena. Others use the more conventional means of the Docklands Light Railway.
The building, created by Siemens to be a beacon of sustainable development, has a name which is a direct reference to the Crystal Palace, star of the Great Exhibition of 1851. And similar to its historical namesake, the Crystal is a three-dimensional demonstration of innovation and technological development.
The site comprises around 6,300 square metres (67,813 square feet) and was designed by Wilkinson Eyre to provide a permanent exhibition space, a conference venue, offices for Siemens' Centre of Competence for Cities, as well as being an exemplar in its own right of the use of green technologies. Open since September 2012, the building cost around £30 million, and expects to receive 100,000 visitors per year.
The external design is based on a series of triangles and parallelograms, with no two panes of external glazing the same shape. It is a building of two halves, with one containing an exhibition, focusing on the issues and possible technological solutions of sustainable cities, while the other side houses offices and meeting rooms, together with an auditorium and catering facilities.
The building itself is part of the exhibition, showcasing the use of technologies (produced by Siemens wherever possible). The lead consultant and interior architect was Pringle Brandon Perkins, with construction by ISG and engineering by Arup.
While FM services in Siemens' other UK buildings are provided by Carillion, a different model is being used at the Crystal. Sodexo Prestige is providing catering through a direct contract, with sustainability incorporated into the offer. This includes providing information to customers about seasonality in food sourcing, as well as ensuring that recycling is maximised and wastage reduced. G4S are providing security services with Carillion providing M&E and a management overview.
The building is one of the first to aim for both BREEAM and LEED accreditation, with BREEAM 'Outstanding' and LEED 'Platinum' expected. Attempting to get both accolades led to several interesting decisions for the project team, when the requirements of one system counteracted the needs of the other. As Colin Casse, Siemens' project manager, says: "It was an interesting ride trying to get BREEAM and LEED side-by-side."
The exterior walls are made from highly insulated glass that allows natural light into the building and has different opacity to provide appropriate shading. Various technologies have been employed, including intelligent LED lighting, chilled beams and high-efficiency ventilation, together with ground-source heat pumps that help to heat and cool the building.
Rainwater is being harvested and black water can be treated on-site, leading to 90 per cent water self-sufficiency. A range of building management controls allow for different ventilation modes to be operated, and temperature, light and air to be controlled.
The building's performance will be available for visitors and occupiers to see on displays
in the main atrium.
Although the Crystal is not designed to be a zero-carbon building, it doesn't use fossil fuels on site. Photovoltaic material on the roof, covering an area of 1,580 square metres, contributes to the electricity supply; the rest of the building's needs come from the grid, with an expectation of supply de-carbonisation in future.
The offices are expected to use 83KWh per metre square per year - 50 per cent less energy than comparable office buildings; on-site renewables reduce carbon emissions by more than 65 per cent. Developing lower energy exhibits could reduce this need further and serve as an exemplar for visitor attractions worldwide. A dedicated telepresence room is planned, which would reduce the need for clients to fly. When this is unavoidable, the fact that London City airport is located only minutes away by public transport or taxi cab, helps to reduce scope three carbon emissions.
The FM angle
A group of facilities managers from the BIFM Sustainability special interest group were on site at the time of FM World's visit. These professionals were in an excellent position to provide some in-depth feedback.
The permanent exhibition on sustainability attracted some criticism from the group. Designed by Event, the exhibition features films about the current state of the world, underlining the need for action. Nine zones deal with issues such as transport, health, and power generation, with interactive screens providing visitors with information.
One film shows a future city, where all activities are controlled by technology, but fails to mention who is controlling the systems themselves. The films triggered conversations within the group about the role of technology in solving the problems of over-population and over-consumption.
Some, such as Susanne Winterstein-Smith, estates and facilities manager at Care Quality Commission, thought it was "a very comprehensive display, which will certainly raise awareness of the issues and make people think." Others however, wondered about the target audience and the risk of preaching to the converted.
The plethora of screen-based presentations also prompted several negative reactions. Tomasz Sikorski, maintenance manager at Virgin's Roof Gardens, said there was "too many touchscreen monitors, with quite boring presentations." He also rued the absence of "dynamic, interesting, even disturbing, exhibits."
More seriously, the group seemed to agree that if the sustainability of a building is measured by the ease with which it can be maintained once the construction team has left, the Crystal has many challenges: how to clean the three-storey internal glass atrium, which has not been resolved; the cost and timescales involved in replacing glass panels, which are all different shapes; and accessing light-fittings.
These were some of the difficulties noticed by the visiting facilities managers. As Susanne Winterstein-Smith said: "I am not sure whether anybody had the facilities manager in mind."
One clear improvement would be to locate the building management system in a more conspicuous place, where visitors could see the systems in action, to help showcase the concepts that underpin the building's design.
Sustainable building design needs to incorporate social and economic concerns. It was disappointing, therefore, that the speakers' platform at the Crystal has no means of access for anyone unable to negotiate a step. Also, the doors, door-frames and walls are all painted the same colour, which seems to fly in the face of accepted design wisdom relating to visual disability.
The Green Zone
The Crystal is the flagship building in London's Green Enterprise District (GED). Launched in 2010 by Mayor Boris Johnson, the GED extends over six east London boroughs, covering an area of 48 square kilometres. The aim was to develop a sustainable environment in which people can live and work.
Building a vibrant local economy focused on green enterprise is part of this vision. Originally led by the London Development Agency (LDA), the aim was to attract enterprise by positioning the GED at the forefront of low-carbon innovation, which, it was hoped, would create an additional 6,000 jobs by 2014.
According to the Mayor's office: "The district would help to establish a network of innovative organisations focused on low-carbon waste management, recycling, renewable energy and alternative vehicles, alternative fuel and building technologies".
Speaking on behalf of Siemens, Silke Thomson-Pottebohm, says that the area "presents an ideal location to develop a global hub for urban sustainability and urban sustainability learning". She sees London as a global leader in sustainable urban development, and leader of "a number of ground-breaking initiatives."
Arguably, the presence of a multi-national company such as Siemens, which generates more than 40 per cent of its revenue from eco-friendly products, will draw other companies and investors to the location.
The London Sustainable Industries Park (LSIP) is one GED project that is starting to develop. Located in Dagenham, it provides 125,000 square metres (over 1,345,000 square feet) of space for a cluster of environmentally focused enterprises, such as low-carbon energy from waste plants, waste facilities and other 'clean-tech' infrastructure.
Mark Bradbury of Vertical Thinking had a key role in creating the park when he was deputy development director for the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation.
He explains that the Green Enterprise District was important in establishing the LSIP, which made it easier to obtain funding from the Mayor's office to get the necessary infrastructure in place. Adopting a co-ordinated approach to planning enabled the necessary permissions to be obtained quickly and for the building work to start.
Businesses on the park build their own premises, but Memorandums of Understanding encourage them to aspire to a BREEAM 'Excellent' design. However, the emphasis has been on ensuring buildings are sustainable, rather than ticking accreditation boxes.
For example, Mark Bradbury was keen to see flexible buildings that would have a life beyond the 25-year lease term, avoiding the demolition and rebuild cycle, with all the associated carbon impacts.
Synergies between the companies taking space in the LSIP are encouraged and schemes are starting to be enacted, such as a shared heat-trading network.
However, overall management of the SIP is not as rigid as during its start-up - in the future, there may be some dilution of criteria, as the commercial pressure to fill space increases.
The sustainable operation of the buildings is up to each individual business. As Bradbury says, "an estate-management process conducive to collaboration would help joint solutions".
The LSIP serves as a working example of how co-location can benefit the sustainable industries by removing several layers of bureaucracy.
Also, the lessons learned from the LSIP have been shared and numerous tours hosted for people from around the world; the recent Workplace Futures conference, for example, took place at the Crystal in February. Other areas in the UK are now looking to see how they can learn from the LSIP and replicate its successes.
However, despite its early promise, the Green Enterprise District now seems to exist in name only, despite a number of projects, such as the LSIP and Crystal, still located within its boundaries. Since the demise of the London Development Agency and the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, there appears to be little leadership for the GED and no strategy in place.
The London Sustainable Development Commission 2012 report on sustainability indicators (London's Quality of Life Indicators Report 2012), noted that: "Tackling the causes and effects of climate change can generate jobs and investment in London. Strong leadership is needed if this change is to happen on a significant scale".
It can only be hoped that this leadership is forthcoming so that the opportunities now available in east London, and the promises of the Green Enterprise District, are fulfilled.