At 310 metres and 78 storeys high, it stands like a giant sundial dominating London’s skyline. It’s covered in 11,000 glass panels – an area the size of eight football pitches. And it’s being billed as a ‘vertical city’, comprising offices, flats, shops, restaurants and a five star hotel. But it all started life as a sketch in felt tip pen on a napkin in a restaurant – and was inspired by London’s existing skyline.
As architect Renzo Piano told me, ‘Cities are growing by layers you could say; historical cities grow that way. And every layer that’s been done at a certain moment has been witnessing a certain moment – every classic building has been modern once… So the big question is, is this building telling a story about our time or not?
And it is telling a story about our time, it’s telling the story about energy, subtlety, a sense of lightness… So it doesn’t mimic the past but you don’t have to mimic – you have to take the responsibility and the courage to be yourself. You just have to be good, you have to be bloody good, that’s for sure.’
The exterior of The Shard is now complete and the building was inaugurated today. Its total cost is estimated to be around £435m.
The team behind the Shard is hoping the public will fall in love with the building when they visit the viewing gallery between the 68th and 72nd floors – and see some truly incredible views of London. But it’s the view from outside the building, specifically on Parliament Hill to the north of the city, which has caused so much controversy. English Heritage objected to plans for the Shard saying it would impact on the famous view of St Paul’s Cathedral in particular.
And there’s no denying that seen from Parliament Hill, The Shard does dwarf St Paul’s. But whether or not this diminishes the cthedral in some way is open to debate.
Cultural commentator Simon Jenkins knows where he stands on the issue. ‘The point about London’s views traditionally is that they were diverse; the eye could roam free over London, it could look up at the chief points of interest. It had changed, some towers were rather ugly. But it was still a sort of carpet of diversity. It now forces you to look at one building. It was intended to do that, it’s an ego-maniacal piece of architecture.’
I asked Renzo Piano how he’d respond to the accusation that the Shard represents the architecture of ego and arrogance ‘It’s quite true actually that tall buildings and towers are arrogant presences,’ he admitted, ‘That’s quite true generally speaking because they’re a symbol of power and money . And somebody said they’re phallic symbols, that may be true… But this isn’t a good enough reason to blame all tall buildings.
“Because making a tall building is still responding to one of the desires of human beings to fight against the force of gravity, to challenge... And if you do it properly and just flirt with the sky, if you go up and accept that buildings are never the same, like this building is, it’s actually playing with the light, it’s almost a kaleidoscope, almost a sensor of the city… Then I think you have a good story to tell. And that’s more poetic.”
To mark its inauguration, the Shard will be lit up by a laser show this evening. Those hoping to visit its viewing gallery will have to wait till February next year – and pay £25 a ticket. In the meantime, the Olympics will provide the opportunity to beam images of the building around the world. Helping even those who hate it get used to its presence on the London skyline.
By Matthew Cain http://blogs.channel4.com
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