Thursday, 24 March 2011

Sustainable Design Centre for London 2012

Back to Tap has learned that Siemens will be building a sustainable design centre in the heart of London in preparation for the Olympics. The question on our minds is if the centre will actually address some of London's most pressing issues, including the worst urban air quality in all of Europe and an antiquated and wasteful sewerage system, among other problems.

According to Siemens Chief Executive Andreas J. Goss, the project “aims to create an attractive focal point that celebrates London’s ambition and leadership in green technologies and sustainability" and she hopes that the project "will act as a catalyst for wider community involvement in the debate about how we best address the challenge of climate change in our cities.” Does this sound familiar?

Two years ago, the city of Vancouver's own Olympic sustainability project seemed to echo the same passion for sustianability, but in the end if turned out to another VANOC White Elephants. Will London's corporate financed sustainability fare any better than the real estate bubble tragedy that the Olympic Village has been for the City of Vancouver?

Set to open in early 2012 the centre in the Royal Victoria Docks, it is proposed that the centre will be a flagship for East London’s Green Enterprise District. This part of the city is alternatively represented as the Silicon Valley of the UK and a Green Enterprise District, so it is a little confusing for casual observers. Do "green" software servers run on air or solar energy?

Designed as a showcase of urban sustainability, and including an office, an exhibition and education facility, Siemens project will showcase new technology from around the world and new ways of living and working in the spirit of sustainable sustainable urbanism. The interactive exhibitions and events will be open to the public - yet just how open remains to be seen. Siemens' project is still very much private property development, and in spite of members of the public being permitted to enter the space when they are invited, this will not in fact be a public space.

The space is projected to attract around 100,000 visitors a year, with school groups, and visiting research teams being a key component in the mix. Based on the dynamic centre Siemens is hoping to realise, one wonders if the financiers behind Vancouver's second convention centre could have used their imagination a little and provided a more engaging space for the public, alongside corporate conferences and over-priced inspirational speakers.

In terms of raw technology, the centre will showcase UK sustainable design and construction technologies, and will maximise the use of natural daylight, incorporating high performance glazing, photovoltaic panels, energy efficient lighting and metering. Rainwater harvesting, water efficient appliances, ground source heat pumps and solar water heating will all be integral to the design and the building will be constructed using recycled steel and industrial by-product cement. Sustainable drainage and water efficient landscaping are also part of the plans to create a relaxing waterside environment around the building.

According to Anne Keogh, the building complex will serve as a living model for London homeowners, archtiects and designers with research facilities supporting new green businesses. How this will work in practice remains to be seen.

Siemens is in the enviable position of having a testing ground for many of these projects with the Masdar City project in Abu Dhabi. The Masdar project is business led initiatives to create a sustainable satellite city using new green technology. While few countries or cities have the money to build from nothing, both of these projects drive home the need for investment in innovative approaches to sustainable urban design and more equitable living in one of the world's wealthiest cities.

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