Shard of glass

Shard of glass

Designed by acclaimed Italian architect, Renzo Piano, The Shard is London’s most recent addition to its dynamic skyline. At 1016ft tall, the structure offers unparalleled views of the city – and, since its inauguration in February, both London residents and visitors alike have been enjoying the unique experience it offers, writes JoBeth Phillips.

Designed by Renzo to be a ‘vertical city’, The Shard is undoubtedly one of London’s most imaginative buildings. With minor architectural references to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – the world’s tallest building – The Shard’s jagged edges and off-kilter faceting is representative of London as whole.

The juxtaposition of smooth, sharp, and irregular surfacing are all hallmarks of typical London style – and it’s something that Renzo paid particular attention to during the blueprint stage.

The name itself – The Shard – is derived from Renzo’s description of the development as a ‘shard of glass’ during planning stages. The name also partially originates from its well-documented, multi-faceted sculptural design, which consists of over 11,000 sheets of glass that gradually incline inwards, but do not meet at the top – allowing the building to ‘breathe’ naturally.

For Renzo, it was imperative that the building help redefine London’s skyscape not just today, but for the future. Not too modern, nor too dated, The Shard is intended to be a timeless piece of architecture that will outlive its creator.

The Shard is a part of a multi-billion-pound development around London Bridge station by Sellar Property, which, in association with LBQ Ltd, aims for the area to become a hotspot for business, travel and dining.

The Shard, and its sister development, The Place, link seamlessly with London Bridge Station through a new central plaza, public realm, bus station and train station concourse. Renzo Piano is responsible for the architecture of both developments. 

The project forms a major part of the move to attract business and investment to London’s historic Southbank, bringing the economic and cultural focus of the City of London south of the river. 

The sustainability of The Shard was an important concern for both Renzo, as well as the building’s developers. An impressive 95% of recycled material was utilised throughout the construction, supplemented with 740m2 of photovoltaic equipment, which assists in powering the entire building. With these in place, The Shard is reported to outperform emissions regulations by a staggering 45%.

Environmental concerns aside, The Shard stays true to the developer’s vision of a fully-integrated, accessible construction that benefits the city and its residents, both commercially and culturally.

Adhering to Renzo’s determination to create a vertical city, the 87-level building features boutiques, restaurants, apartments and offices, in addition to the Shangri-La hotel – an 18-level five-star hotel which is due to open this year. The Shard is completed by a public viewing area on level 72, which, at 800ft, is The Shard’s highest habitable level.

“The Shard was designed to be a building for everyone, and the opening of the View from The Shard is a fundamental part of this,” says Irvine Sellar, chairman of Sellar Property and partner of LBQ Limited.

Formally inaugurated in February by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, the public viewing area is itself a major design feat. To ensure optimum views and visitor experiences, Renzo was personally involved in developing the content of the experience, working in collaboration with the attraction designers, Event Communications.

“London is a city of inspiration and imagination,” says Renzo. “When we designed The Shard, a viewing gallery was part of our thinking right from the start. We wanted to create a public space where people could visit the building to experience London in a different way and also feel that they have discovered the spirit of the building.

“Level 72 is a wonderful example of this: in the open air on the highest habitable floor, you are surrounded by the shards of glass as well as the sights, sounds, elements and atmosphere of the city below. On top of the city, but also within it.”

Multiple interactive galleries have been implemented to stimulate the senses, which begins on the ground floor. Around the ground floor gallery, animated maps and video screens illustrate the growth of London and reveal the context of the historic London Bridge location – the oldest crossing point over the Thames – around which the city has expanded.

Four separate high-speed lifts have been installed for visitors’ use to the viewing gallery. Travelling at 6m a second, visitors will reach level 68 in just one minute – and the experience is no less as sensory as the viewing gallery itself.

Within the lifts, video screens and mirrors have been installed to emit a kaleidoscopic sensory experience, creating an effect of soaring through the roofs of some of London’s most iconic buildings.

Upon reaching level 33, visitors are encouraged to ‘transfer’ lifts – and in doing so, revel in an impressive graffiti word map of London. Again, the installation has been made interactive, with a number of questions and information about London delivered in a unique, artful way.

From this mid-way point, visitors can then proceed to the view London from The Shard’s unique vantage point. From level 69, visitors will experience the light-filled viewing gallery, which offers 360o views of the expansive city below. Depending on weather conditions, visitors will be able to see up to 40 miles across the city, including some of London’s most famous landmarks – including Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben and Wembley Stadium, amongst others.

Free-to-use digital telecopes have also been installed, further adding to the visitor experience – and especially useful in inclimate weather. The fully interactive, high-tech gadgetry allows visitors to view city in real time, as well as offering pre-recorded vistas. 

The interactive telecopes, called Tell:scopes, can identify over 200 landmarks and places of interest, with aural information offered in 10 languages. It is the first time this technology has been used in Europe, and further ensures all visitors will receive a truly engaging experience – whatever the weather.

However, the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the 800ft-high level 72. Here, the very highest public level of the building, is partially open-air and exposed to the elements – giving visitors an unparalleled experience of London.

Surrounded by the giant shards of glass that form the top of The Shard, it is here that visitors can fully experience the sounds and atmosphere of the city below. 

“The View from The Shard is the only place you can see the whole of London all at once, and as such, is a natural starting point for exploring the UK’s capital,” says Andy Nyberg, CEO of The View from The Shard.

“Visitors can find the entire city laid out before them, to be explored, admired and inspired by. We’ve designed an immersive visitor experience enhanced by state-of-the-art technology to draw people deeper into the story of London, its people and history. I hope that our guests - Londoners and tourists alike - will enjoy a truly unique encounter with the city and The Shard.”

The View from The Shard is open from 9am-10pm daily, and tickets must be pre-booked to avoid overcrowding. Tickets, priced at £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children, can be booked through The View from The Shard’s website.