The Shard opens in London, among fanfare and design criticism

On July 5, London's--and Western Europe's--tallest building officially opens. Called the Shard, the looming, glassy skyscraper marks a turning point for London's silhouette.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

Sandwiched between the high-profile events of the Queen's Jubilee and the London Olympics, the inauguration of the glassy skyscraper known as the Shard on July 5 marks another big occasion: the opening of the tallest building in Western Europe.

At 1,016 feet tall, the Shard dwarfs such landmarks as the Gothic 19th-century Houses of Parliament and joins other modern towers such as Sir Norman Foster's "Gherkin" as a symbol of contemporary London.

The edifice, which cost a reported $750 million (a figure cited on a USA Today blog post) will be inaugurated with a dramatic night-time laser light show. Hosting the ceremonies are His Excellency Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, and Prince Andrew Albert Edward, the Duke of York. The State of Qatar is a majority investor in the building--at 95%. As far as other stats go, the building has a lot of elevators and flights of stairs (44 and 206, respectively), but to date no signed tenants to fill the 600,000 square feet of office space available, reported the newspaper The Independent.

But there's another business incentive behind the Shard, beyond leasing floors. The Shard's web site states that the external investment by the State of Qatar in the building embodies the Qatar 2030 vision. That vision is described as "a roadmap to achieve a diversified income that is independent from oil and gas revenues," the site states (and is attributed to His Excellency Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saoud Al Thani, Governor of Qatar Central Bank and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Shard Funding Limited).

As far as design ambitions, architect Renzo Piano has called the Shard his "vision for a vertical city." Indeed, the mixed-use tower seems to offer nearly every service that a city dweller needs--stacked one above the other. The order from the bottom up seems to reflect a glamorous day: start off with work (there are offices on floors 2-28), followed by a fancy lunch (restaurants from 31-33), then visit a friend in town from another city (there's the swank Shangri-La Hotel from floors 34-52), before calling it a night (residences are located from 53-65). Above those homes, there are observation areas that offer spectacular 360-degree views of London, from floors 68-72.

Architecture critics haven't been so kind on the Shard and its rather inelegant name (some people also refer to it as "the Cheese Grater"). As Tyler Falk reported earlier this year on SmartPlanet, Ulrike Knöfel, writing for Spiegel, stated in January that "The building is certainly no beauty, and its silhouette seems confident, almost arrogant. Even its name sounds aggressive: the Shard."

More recently, Harry Mount wrote in a July 5 blog post for the Telegraph U.K. that the Shard is a "disaster" in London because it doesn't compliment the city's low-rise skyline. Instead, it could have worked in New York, a newer town without the same richly historical aesthetic, Mount argued.

Instead, he wrote that The Shard is yet another example of the rather generic style of "blank, unadorned, ultra-simplistic, art-free planes of steel and glass expanded to a massive scale."

"That scale is, in and of itself, impressive; but when it dwarfs and overshadows buildings of infinitely greater beauty, constructed with much greater artistic skill, that scale becomes a bullying, destructive thing," Mount concluded.

Ouch. Such design criticism is likely to hurt, much like a cut from a shard of shiny glass.

Image: Bjmullan/Wikimedia Commons

Related on SmartPlanet:

London's design evolution: a balance of skyscrapers, public space, history

London's first true skyscraper, tallest in Western Europe

A decade after 9/11, new innovations in skyscraper design

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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