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The Crystal is a fairly new visitor attraction in central London. Our visit to the venue co-incided with a visit to London for a family wedding. We took a trip on the cable car across the River Thames, and one of the most local things to do at the Royal Docks terminus was a visit to the Crystal building.
The Crystal is a very striking building, sponsored by Siemens, and designed to promote sustainability. I was very interested to visit the building to see how sustainable living within cities was being promoted to visitors to the centre.
Entry to this exhibition is free, like many attractions in London. It is open between 10am and 5pm between Tuesdays and Sundays with the last entry being 30 minutes before closing time. Our visit included a wide range of people, from a wheelchair user, to several younger children and buggies. Our group had about 25 people in it, and we were not the only people there on a Saturday afternoon, but it was not what I would call a busy venue.
We entered the building through the cafeteria as we stopped for some warm drinks when we first arrived at the building. Drinks and snacks like cakes or soup were available for pretty average prices. A couple of cups of tea were just under £5. Facilities were bright within the glass fronted building, and the idea of sustainability is carried throughout the building - putting their money where their mouth is as such. The food that was on display in the cafe had a bit of a home made look to it and the food was pretty seasonal. A visit to the amenities felt very futuristic with a self flushing toilet when you stood up (be careful if just leaning forward to get some paper is my top tip of the day), taps that worked by putting a hand underneath, and hand dryers that were similarly efficient.
Entering the exhibition, we passed a small shop type area where we passed a member of staff who gave us a swipe card while we were in the building. It soon became clear that we needed this to work some of the exhibits in the building.
There is some guidance to follow the exhibition in a kind of order starting with upstairs. Here there was a cinema experience in a white room with a projector displaying a moving image on the wall, floor and roof of the room. Some of the children in our party seemed to really enjoy this experience. I didn't take my youngest in here as it was pretty loud, and although the things being shown was pretty interesting to me, I could not personally stay in here very long as I felt a bit dizzy with the way the images were moving around. The show was about how people live, and the skill sets we currently have, and what we might need in the future.
Other exhibits on the upper floor were interactive displays looking at things like how people live in different cities, and the difficulties you get when you have to make people live in tower blocks, and how extreme weather affects built up areas. Exhibits here felt more adult as there was a bit of reading to do to understand the point of them.
Downstairs was a much larger area and a lot more appealing to the younger visitors in our party. Here there were a lot more exhibits that were like computer games. My eldest son really enjoyed an exhibit about controlling crowds. While I don't think he got the full idea of the game and how serious crowd control can be (ie result in people getting hurt if crushed) he enjoyed the lemming style game set in scenarios like a tube station, opening and shutting lifts and gates to make sure the platform does not get overcrowded before the train arrives.
Another activity that was hugely popular among the children involved them pretending to be windmills in front of a computer display. A town needs energy, and to create optimum energy, you need to windmill your arms in front of the sensor to create the electric they need. You need to follow what is happening on screen and match your arm speed to meet the demand. Slightly difficult, but quite fun for the kids. We found that the kids were a little short to work it properly but a parent stood behind them could help them without them feeling like they were not doing it themselves.
Popular with some of the party was a waterfall designed to look at renewable energy. It was very popular with one child with hearing difficulties. My children recognised some of the renewable fuel options due to us having solar panels ourselves and we have also experienced similar exhibits at Magna near our home looking at tidal power.
Other displays like looking at different building materials used for housing were a little dry, thought we enjoyed touching the different materials on display and thinking about how our home was different to other peoples houses.
Overall, for a free exhibit, there is enough there to kill one or two hours with children. You might spend longer there as an adult if you want to read the information within the displays, but children will find it a bit harder to get information from it. There was a fair amount of interactive displays to keep them engaged but our difficulty was we had one swipe card between the four of us, so if one child paused to look at something, you could guarantee the other had stopped at another display, and for me, I could have spent a lot longer reading the information by myself as I find it hugely interesting how people plan cities trying to take into account so many factors. I think the staff were fairly accomodating and would have let us have another card if we asked for one, but by the time we thought of it we were ready for leaving.
The building itself is very modern, and very accomodating to people of different interest levels and capabilities. We had no difficulty moving around with wheelchairs and buggies between the two levels of the exhibition.
If you are in the area, then it is certainly worth having a look round as I felt there was something there for everyone to have a look at. For anyone who wants to read more or plan a visit, you can find out more here: http://www.thecrystal.org/_html/index.html
It was a nice day out for us when we combined it with a trip on the London cable car. It is not somewhere I would rush to go back to, but we enjoyed the time we spent there and its always good to get out and do something with the kids.