Shard overshadows copycat developers’ visions

South London commuters, arriving at London Bridge station, will be aware that the Shard nears completion. This Guardian piece by Jonathan Glancey from two years ago ably predicts the building’s influence on developers elsewhere – including Croydon

The Shard, from the platforms of London Bridge station

Shard London Bridge, better known as the Shard, a tripod-like concrete, steel and glass construction will be 310 metres tall when completed in 2012. Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano – who first made his name, alongside Richard Rogers, with the design of the Pompidou Centre in Paris– the Shard will revolutionise the London skyline, casting a needle-like shadow like some Brobdingnagian sundial across the city.

What this structural behemoth will not be, is the tallest building in Europe, as intended. In the EU, yes; but further east the 380-metre Mercury City Tower is sprouting up in Moscow. Even that potential entrant to the record books will be relegated soon enough as future generations of property developers keen to prove their financial virility, or foolhardiness, attempt to take the title. Will London, or another British city, rejoin the race after 2012, and the current austere times?

Much turns on the success of the Shard, a business opportunity created and nurtured by Irvine Sellar, a one-time king of Carnaby Street boutiques in the days of floral shirts and flared trousers. There was a time when the Shard seemed nothing more than a glassy gleam in Sellar’s eye, but when John Prescott gave it the go-ahead in 2003, nothing – recession or otherwise – was going to stand in its way.

At the moment though, this cocky, Cockney erection has a decidedly raw look. As a babel of construction workers speaking more languages than the Babylonians or the authors of the Bible could have dreamed of piles the concrete sky-high, the Shard has the look of some curiously elongated and rather blasphemous ancient ziggurat.

A temple to Mammon, it trounces lowly St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames. It makes every one of those 60s office towers that rose in the wake of the Macmillan government’s relaxation of height controls – whereby no building in central London was to be taller than Wren’s cathedral – look positively lilliputian.

Dwarfed by this world of high-rise construction, we continue to watch the Shard’s progress with mix of awe and moth-to-flame fascination. Can the way forwards still go very far upwards? Will we rush to the viewing platform on the Shard’s 72nd floor, above its shops, offices, flats and hotel? Probably. What we do know is that, this week, the Shard’s progress marks one small step for architecture, one giant leap for property development.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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