I love tall buildings, particularly getting up them to get an aerial perspective on their surroundings. Over the years I’ve visited the Eiffel Tower, Paris, CN tower in Toronto, Canada, The Rialto tower in Melbourne, Australia, one in Tokyo which I can’t recall the name of (!), The Gherkin and BT tower in London, and last year; The Burj Kalifa, Dubai.
Construction began on the Shard in March 2009, with the envelope of the building complete for its inauguration in July 2012 – that is a phenomenally quick build for such a large building. It is 309.6 metres (1,016 ft) high, and is the tallest building in the European Union. The tower is 90 storeys high, but has 72 habitable floors. The viewing gallery is on the 72nd floor, at a height of 245 metres (804 ft). The project was conceived by Irvine Sellar in 2000 and the architect was the Italian Renzo Piano. Piano’s concept was born out of the idea of an ice-berg like sculpture emerging from the Thames. Ironically English Heritage, who were strongly opposed to the building, branded it “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London” – and that is where the name ‘The Shard’ came from.
It incredible to think that this development has been built through one of the deepest economic recessions to date. The project nearly failed when it was due to start on site, but a consortium of Qatari investors paid £150 million to secure an 80% stake. If successful in terms of fully occupying the building, it could be worth over £2.5bn. The Shard is a mixed-use building incorporating;
- 54,488 m2 (586,504 sq ft) of prime Office space on floors 2-28.
- 5,945 m2 (63,991 sq ft) of Restaurants on floors 31-33
- 16,198 m2 (174,354 sq ft) 200-bed 5-star Shangri-La Hotel on floors 34-52
- 5,772 m2 (62,129 sq ft) of private Residential apartments on floors 53-65
- 758 m2 (8,159 sq ft) Observatory on floors 68-72. You can see an interactive view from the top of the shard by clicking here.
You can also see how The Shard compares to other buildings in London, The UK, Europe and the World at this Guardian feature here. In reality, whilst the Shard appears to be huge in the context of London, it doesn’t really rank that highly in global terms. That said the Shard has already become another globally recognised architectural icon for London, along with Westminster, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye etc.
So what of the view/ experience? Is it worth it?….
On entering at ground level I had a brief encounter with Boris Johnson and Irvine Sellar who had just opened the observation decks to the public. As the building tapers to its peak, the internal circulation cores reduce also. This meant a two-stage lift ride (slightly odd). When you get to the top you enter into an open space which spans three storeys in height and, as you would expect, there are full-height glass walls. At the corners of the building there are projecting fins on the façade. This makes viewing out more interesting in my view as you have a close reference point against the long-distance views.
Thanks to the British rain, taking pictures proved challenging due to the water droplets all over the glass. When asked to fill in a feedback form on the way down, one visitor said “you need to install windscreen wipers!” Most people seemed unaware at first that there are actually two viewing levels. The top one is open-air! This is fantastic to be able to sense the atmospheric conditions at that height. Surprisingly it didn’t feel windy and you couldn’t hear the wind either. The views out are stunning – even on a rainy day! I think it’s a good height to be at, certainly by comparison to the Burj Kalifa where you almost feel like you’re flying because you’re so high. From the Shard you can see so much detail of London’s rich urban fabric and the constant movement of traffic; vehicles, trains, planes, people etc. You get such a strong sense of London’s architectural diversity as well, the constant fusion of historic and contemporary buildings.
One of the best things about the Shard is that the views outward are uninterrupted. When you look at the tall buildings of the City, they all look so close together, especially with the Helter-Skelter, Cheesegrater and Walkie-talkie, all being built around Heron tower, Tower 42 and The Gherkin.
The view from the Shard was, as I expected, a great experience. And one I would certainly do again in the future. There is something really quite mesmerising about watching the world exist when looking down from a height, especially where you can see such detail.
If you’re in London and wondering whether to have a visit to the top of the Shard; do it. You won’t be disappointed.