'The Shard': The Building That Will Change London Forever

It's not that there aren't taller buildings elsewhere. For example, Dubai has its Burj Khalifa skyrocketing a record 828 meters (2,717 feet), and there are even plans to build a structure climbing 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in Saudi Arabia. But London offers heights of another sort, drawing wealthy Russians and the well-to-do from the Middle and Far East. And Sellar believes these people see London as "the most exciting city on the planet."

Tenet Trouble

His Shard will offer space for offices, restaurants, 10 apartments and a luxury hotel, whose selling points include a pool on the 52nd floor with a panoramic view. Floors 68 to 72 will house an observatory, which Sellar believes will attract visitors to the building.

Of course, there is certainly no shortage of potential visitors in the area. Sellar is building his skyscraper at something of a transportation hub, as it is wedged in next to the London Bridge railway station, which is used by 54 million people each year.

Sellar is also building a second high-rise next door, though this one will only have a modest 17 floors. Total investment in the projects is £1.5 billion pounds (€1.8 billion or $2.3 billion). So far, the only tenant to sign a lease has been the Asian hotel and resort group Shangri-La, which will operate a five-star hotel on several floors of the Shard. Sellar cancelled a contract with another interested party, the Greater London Authority, the body administering regional transit. He was apparently hoping to draw other, higher-paying tenants.

A Symbol of London 's Excesses

Every skyscraper serves as a symbol. This glass tower is meant to show that London can defy the financial crisis, or at least that's how London Mayor Boris Johnson phrased it a year ago. In the worst-case scenario, the glass wedge will simply become a symbol of the fact that everything in London is growing fancier and more expensive, and that it's time for old England, with its eroding working class, to abandon the city and its exorbitant costs of living. In fact, these costs are precisely what prompted thousands to take to the streets in protests last summer.

Sellar shakes his curly head. Of course, he sees the matter differently. Together, his two high-rises should provide working space for over 12,000. "We're taking people off the streets," he says.

Sellar has been working on the project since the late 1990s; Piano, the architect, joined him on the project at around the turn of the millennium. Piano first made a name for himself by co-designing Paris' Pompidou Center. While working on the London skyscraper, he also designed one nearly as tall for the New York Times in Manhattan. He has also designed airports and the master plan for Potsdamer Platz, the commercial and entertainment hub in Berlin. Racing into the Sky For years, people in London took little interest in architecture, and it seemed like anyone could build whatever they liked. Sellar and Piano came up with their idea before the 9/11 attacks made many scared of skyscrapers, before the financial markets began to stagger and long before angry young people in Britain turned to arson. Indeed, the concept for the Shard concept was born in an entirely different era. In terms of atmosphere and aesthetics, the building is still living somewhere around the year 2000.

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