On a stormy day The Crystal building greets you like a looming alien spacecraft; all dark glass and jutting angles, reflecting the War Of the Worlds-like pylons of the cable car system and the cranes of the ever-multiplying high-rises. It’s an awe inspiring sight. And when you know that The Crystal is one of the most sustainable buildings anywhere it makes you proud and hopeful too. Despite the continuous building in the area, the mood of the Royal Victoria Docklands is always calm and inviting. There is just so much to see here.
Today we came with our students to observe, learn and be inspired about design. We have previously interacted with the fascinating displays about sustainable cities. We have marched round with our swipe cards collecting our crystal points, pedalled the bikes to generate power, waved our arms as wind turbines and boosted our understanding of the many issues of keeping our cities fit for a burgeoning population and, if not keeping climate change at bay, at least of trying to be actively coping with its repercussions.
Today instead we were here to record and photograph and be inspired by the fantastic (and I do not use that word lightly) design of the building and of the exhibition space. Like shoppers on Black Friday we attacked every possible bit of type in the environment, texture, colour, interaction, abstraction, view and infographic that we set eyes upon. It was a feast of #noticing. And to boot, we also came away with some ideas for future type projects.
If I don’t sound serious, I am. My tone is simply from excitement and enthusiasm. There is indeed plenty to learn at The Crystal that can depress you. One of our students remarked that the surround-sound and vision film made her feel every environment, every sombre fact; the dust cloud effect is too chokingly real. But the clever and colourful way that the exhibits have been created makes the facts easy to understand and helps the citizen-visitor feel that they might be able to do their bit to help.
Design, we know, very much helped to get us into this unsustainable mess, what with planned obsolescence, and advertising may well be to blame for non-stop consumption and equally non-stop waste. But The Crystal also shows us that design might be able to get us out of this mess too. If beautifully crafted displays that appeal to all the senses, can prove a point that knowledge is power and that awareness is the first step to taking action, then the designers have done some good. In the meantime, just let me look at it all again.
In part two there will be an exploration of the typography of The Crystal.