How London Got Lumbered With The Shard

London, Observatory

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.

middlesex_1The 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.


8 comments on “How London Got Lumbered With The Shard”

  1. Dave Newsome says:

    Couldn’t agree more. What I really like about your blog though is the brilliant snippets of obscure information, like the BBC Aldwych one above. Be honest, you are channelling Arthur aren’t you?

  2. Pheeny says:

    Isn’t there also an (Indian? Greek?) tradition somewhere of a craftsman always making a deliberate mistake to avoid attracting the (jealous) attention of the Gods?

    I always adhere to that tradition myself *shifty look*

  3. Pheeny says:

    And you are right about the Shard but its not only the Shard – when I recently visited London it was depressing to see so many modren buildings – often admirable out of contextlooking as if they had just been plonked down at random.

    s106 agreements (whereby planning permission is granted in return for a greater or lesser wodge to the Local Authority to be used ostensibly at least for “public benefit”) is nothing more nor less than institutionalised bribery IMHO

  4. Ann Kelly says:

    It may amuse you to know that I overheard three small children excitedly referring to the “Philishave” building as “The Evil Lipstick”, on a train into Charing Cross one day.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    If what the council negotiates is green space or public access (we have a building that touches ground only at its centre, all the floors being suspended from the centre tower, so there’s public access to the view, etc. at ground level. If the building includes an amenity like a public library or they give up land somewhere else that the council wants for – say – a school, then that is all good, but a “wodge of cash” is not good because it *won’t* benefit the people who lost whatever was on the site before.
    The earlier, make sure there’s an error goes back to the Greeks for one where Arachne was turned into a spider for daring to boast of the perfection of her weaving. I have never had that problem with any of my work, there’s always mistakes, greater or lesser.

  6. Pheeny says:

    Thank you for that Helen … it sounded like it should be the Greeks but I wasn’t sure.
    I think a proviso for reasonable free public access in the case of this type of building should be the very least of requirements for PP – as it was for Trump Tower in New York
    It is not healthy for society if the “great and good” can isolate themselves totally from the common herd

  7. Pheeny says:

    Love the “evil lipstick” moniker – almost as good as Birmingham’s “floozy in a jacuzzi”

  8. David Read says:

    I feel the largest benefit is when someone is doing a movie poster showing some kind of alien invasion there is normally some big ship or monolithic structure in a city.

    Think of the Photoshop hours that will be saved.

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