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

Still, the Shard isn't the type of kitschy construction now seen in cities from Moscow to Shanghai. It is sculptural, but not sentimental. Of course, its windows reflect the passing clouds, which fits with Piano's concept of poetry. But on the many days with dismal weather, the building's glass panes will simply mirror the gray London sky.

Yet nothing -- whether architectural lyricism or Sellar's commentary -- can hide the fact that, at its heart, the building represents a display of power. Now more than ever, tall buildings serve as status symbols for European cities. No one seems to seriously care anymore about preserving historic building or paying attention to lines of sight or the relative heights of buildings.

After almost 40 years, Paris has also decided to allow high-rises again, at least at the edge of the city's downtown area, where the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron has received permission to build a 180-meter-high (590-foot-high) pyramid. In Switzerland, Basel is getting its own skyscraper, while Zurich has the Prime Tower at 126 meters (413 feet) and is considering building something akin to a high-rise-ringed Central Park just outside the city. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, French architect Jean Nouvel is building one of Spain's tallest buildings, a 142-meter (466-foot) structure meant to evoke a fountain.

But London has outdone them all. Its recently completed Heron Tower, on the other side of the Thames, stands at 202 meters (663 feet), and the Shard makes the leap to over 300 meters.

Are Skyscrapers Passé? Architecture critics such as Andres Lepik say skyscrapers built solely for the sake of height are completely outdated dinosaurs. People used to marvel at them the way they do when the see a flashy car on the street. But cities grow, and if they don't want to continually expand into the surrounding countryside, they're forced to expand upward instead. But, all too often, these tall buildings look almost completely out of place owing to their location, their size and even their appearance.

When asked how it feels to alter the skyline of a metropolis like London, Piano notes that if an architect makes a mistake, people will see it for a long, long time.

Sellar, on the other hand, takes a more relaxed view. No one else will be able to top him in London -- at least as long as no one is allowed to build a structure above 1,000 feet (305 meters). Or course, Sellar has found a way to get around this restriction himself. By putting the base of the Shard in a depression, it will technically be 1,016-feet tall.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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