August 16, 2012
Architecture Crush: Renzo Piano’s London Landmark The Shard
London’s newest (and tallest) gleaming spire courtesy of an Italian architect
By Nancy Staab
London gets a gleaming, signature new spire thanks to Italian architect Renzo Piano and at over 1,000 feet it’s the tallest tower in Western Europe.
It’s not hard to miss the latest addition to London’s cosmopolitan skyline. On the banks of River Thames at the base of the historic London Bridge, rises a gleaming, 1,000-foot glass tower with an attenuated spire shape that earned it the name “The Shard.” Eleven years in the making, the elegant, glass faceted tower was completed just in time for the London Olympics. A brand new symbol for this growing cosmopolis. Its master builder is no less than international architect Renzo Piano—the Italian architect behind The New York Times Building, The Menil Museum in Houston, The High Museum addition in Atlanta and the impish Pompidou Centre in Paris (the latter done when the rebellious Piano was in his early 30s). Renzo is a master at manipulating light and space and is known for his architectural elegance and restraint. Yes, this tower may be bold in height but its slender, pointed, leaning form—the glass facets reflecting the ever-changing British sky—is a rather poetic, feminine building rather than a piece of aggressive, masculine bombast. Still the tower did have its detractors, some claiming it dwarfs nearby historic sites like St. Paul’s Cathedral, that it is too tall, too modern, etc. However, we have a feeling that time is on Renzo’s side in terms of the final aesthetic verdict.
The tower is wholly owned by the state of Quatar, but it is a shining London emblem nevertheless, and a new model for vertical living in an increasing dense, global city. The mixed-use building will include office spaces, a boutique hotel, three levels of restaurant space, “winter gardens,” and several levels of viewing platforms for the public at the vertiginous top of the tower. And really the crystalline skyscraper is not so out of place in London’s architectural landscape as it might seem, since Piano purposefully modeled his streamlined tower after the graceful ship masts and spires that surround the River Thames. The celebration-happy Londoners, on the heels of the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics, added one more festivity to their summer program with a nighttime laser show and performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra to christen the new tower.