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The Shard, London's Newest Outcast

Is Europe's newest tallest building "egomaniacal architecture" at its worst?

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Mark Byrnes

The Shard, Europe's newest tallest building, will be inaugurated today whether Londoners like it or not. And many Londoners do truly dislike it. The Guardian's Simon Jenkins wrote:

This egomaniacal architecture echoes the tower's political backers, Ken Livingstone, John Prescott and Boris Johnson, who equate phallic prominence with civic prowess. They are in thrall to the Shard's Qatari financiers.

Cities' own Feargus O'Sullivan took to Twitter to say he hopes the Shard will one day be seen as a sobering mistake, like Paris's Tour Montparnasse.

Not everyone in the city hates it. Architecture writer James Russel wrote in Bloomberg that "[t]he Shard isn’t good enough to quiet the tower haters, but its best moments point the way to tall building design that can gracefully coexist with the city’s invaluable history." Perhaps The Guardian's Steve Rose has the most thoughtful view of the new building, writing:  

It's difficult to deny that the Shard is out of scale with the low-rise streets around it, or that it ruins the view of St Paul's Cathedral from Parliament Hill. But then London has never been a precious, historic jewel of a city like Venice or Paris: it has grown haphazardly, been scarred by war and fire, and has continually overwritten its own history.

Parisians joke that the viewing deck of Tour Montparnasse offers the city's best views, views blissfully free of the Tour Montparnasse itself. When the Shard's viewing deck opens next February, it will provide similar relief (though it will be very expensive - $38.83 for adults, $29.49 for children). In the meantime, the BBC was able to show its viewers what people on the 69th floor will see.

On a recent trip to London, I took took some photos of the Shard. Some were accidental - its presence is hard to avoid, even from distant points throughout Central London. It certainly struggles to blend seamlessly with its more historic surroundings, but it commands attention. And if nothing else, has given London another unmistakable architectural symbol.

Here, we see the aesthetic clash of historic and new that has left many upset with the Shard's presence among its neighbors. 
An up-close look at the Shard from the ground level next to London Bridge Station.
A more basic, rectangular appendage as part of the iconic glass pyramid.
This angle shows remarkable similarities to Manhattan's One Bryant Park tower (completed in 2009).
An architectural contrast that, to its detractors, may be seen as Arab Money v. English Tradition. While it was financed by Qataris, many materials used are German and Dutch, the architect is Italian, and the property company, British.
A more contextual view of the severe contrast between old and new.
Directly across the Thames, two humbler office towers sandwich a view of the Shard.
The Tate Modern and Millenium Bridge along the Thames with the Shard lurking in the background.

All images courtesy author

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