How London Got Lumbered With The Shard
While the Gherkin proved to be London’s cuddliest skyscraper, taken instantly to heart by Londoners, The Shard (commonly known as ‘Sauron’s Tower’) has been pretty much universally reviled as an out-of-proportion eyesore that has ruined the horizons of the city. Yet, incredibly, it was green-lit by anti-skyscraper councillors who thought they were outwitting developers by exchanging planning permission for public amenities. Of course, wily developers will always outwit dim councillors, and thus it proved. According to Owen Hatherley, author of the excellent if depressing ‘A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain’, what the Shard actually paid for in the end was – a glorified bus stop and a station roof, hardly the urban regeneration that was intended.
Hatherley says; ‘The Shard, along with the “Philishave” Strata tower of luxury flats in Elephant and Castle, is part of a huge reorganisation of inner south London, involving the demolition and clearance of 1960s council estates…the building of incessant luxury flat complexes, and the opening up of the Thames.’ And there, in the middle of that sentence, is the one result – endless rows of ‘Luxury Lifestyle Living’, or Futureslums, flogged to overseas buyers as investment opportunities.
The Philishave touted its green credentials but its turbines proved a bust, and are never running. However, both this and the Shard have been hitting the spin-decks in lame attempts to win over the national press. The Shard’s viewing deck has been getting an absurd amount of publicity for the simple reason that over-excited journalists were invited up for free.
Of course it’s hardly news when social engineering councillors are duped – Camden and Westminster’s duplicitous developers have been getting away with this for years, and redevelopment by stealth has long been lining their pockets. But on occasion they get caught out. When the taste-free Candy brothers decided to destroy the sturdy old Middlesex Hospital the deal went bad, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that in the middle of this vast site was a listed chapel that couldn’t be touched.
The Shard is an insult to the London skyline, and Reno Piano’s argument that it echoes 17th century drawings of the steeple-filled skyline is undermined by the fact that it is not a steeple at all, for the top bursts open in a sort of desert orchid effect that may reflect the taste of its Arabic owners.
In this, at least, there is reasoning, because buildings with Arabic connections are meant to remain slightly incomplete, because only Allah creates perfection. Which is why the BBC World Service building on the Aldwych has its top cornerstone missing, in acknowledgement of its inclusive remit to the world – a charming grace note.