The most conspicuous building on the River Thames, the Shard looms over other property in London, and understandably so; on completion in May 2012 it’ll be the tallest building in the EU. Standing 310 metres, the skyscraper was commissioned by property baron Irvine Sellar (the man of “towering ambition”), who selected the site next to London Bridge station that was formerly occupied by the drab Southwark Towers.
Renzo Piano (the Genovese architect who replaced Broadway Malyan) envisioned the tower as a “vertical village“, with a strong base and tapering pinnacle, equipped with a kind of radiator at the apex that would catch cooling breezes and supposedly make the building more sustainable. Piano cited design influences from the shapes of church spires and ships’ masts, describing the building as a “shard of crystal”.
When the recession hit, many doubted whether the Shard would be completed, but its fortunes changed when a consortium of Qatari banks bought an 80 per cent share in 2008. As construction picked up speed, detractors came forward to bemoan its impact on central London’s skyline. Hal Foster, professor of art at Princeton named it a “symbol of finance capitalism”, while the Guardian called ii a “flashing warning sign of disease”.
Nearly twelve years of planning and construction have resulted in a building that spans 87 floors, accommodating offices, flats, restaurants, a hotel and viewing gallery. A public enquiry was led by prior minister John Prescott to scrutinise the Shard’s likelihood of interrupting views of St Paul’s from Hampstead Heath. Prescott gave his approval and reported that he was satisfied the building would go up according to the highest standards of architectural quality.
Less than six months to go until completion and it’s clear the Shard is a landmark on London’s skyline, a symbol of something that Londoners can’t quite put their fingers on; but whether it’s a pimple or a gemstone seems to be in the eye of the beholder.