Completed in 2012, The Shard – a 95-storey skyscraper in London Bridge – is now recognised as the capital’s new emblem and as a symbol of Qatar’s growing commitment to a better Britain
In 2000, London-based entrepreneur Irvine Sellar flew to Berlin to meet with Italian architect Renzo Piano. They had lunch. Sellar was looking for designs for a new tall building to replace Southwark Towers adjacent to the busy London Bridge station. He had big dreams.
Renzo Piano listened to Sellar talk and then picked up his menu. Piano had a great deal of contempt for conventional tall buildings. He considered the movement from the rail lines, and proximity to the river. It reminded him of Canaletto’s paintings of London’s traditional spires and ship masts. He flipped over the menu and started sketching on the back. What he drew were the outlines of the future Shard – a towering spire-like structure rising from the Thames.
Owing to the challenges posed by a lengthy planning process, a high-profile public inquiry and the pullout of investors following the global financial crash, it would take nine years before construction would begin on the new centrepiece for the London Bridge Quarter development, with Qatari investors ensuring the continuation of The Shard when they invested in the project during the 2008 recession.
Mr. Piano went on to design it using sophisticated glazing and 11,000 panes of angled glass that reflect the sunlight and sky so the building would change in appearance according to the weather and seasons.
Finally completed in 2012, the 95-storey skyscraper in Southwark is today ― at 310 metres ― the tallest building in the European Union and it has been recognised as London’s new emblem by Emporis Skyscraper Awards. The tower’s observation deck, the View from the Shard, was opened to the public on February 1st, 2013. “The Shard is Europe’s first vertical city, home now to over 30 international businesses. The tower is recognised around the world. It has become a beacon for modern London and a catalyst for regeneration of the London Bridge area,” says Michael Baker, CEO of Real Estate Management (REM), which provides asset-management and development services for the London skyscraper, in addition to other high-profile Qatari investments in the city.
Mr Baker says the idea of a “vertical city” was the vision from day one. “From the outset, the vision was to create an architecturally striking vertical city incorporating retail, offices, hotel, apartments, restaurants and ´The View from The Shard’.
The idea was to build a diverse vibrant community and provide multiple areas within which the public could experience the building and its magnificent views. And all of this astride one of London’s major transport hubs.”
In late 2007, the gathering uncertainty in the global financial markets sparked concerns about The Shard’s realisation, but Mr Baker says its future was secured when Qatari investors came on board as a partner in 2008. Workers used pioneering engineering methods, such as top-down construction, a first for the UK. It went up, or down, fast. Over one 36-hour period, employing 700 lorry-loads (one every three minutes), building teams poured 5,400 cubic metres of concrete.
The Shard was designed with energy efficiency in mind. It is fitted with a combined heat and power plant that operates on natural gas from the National Grid. Fuel is efficiently converted to electricity and heat is recovered from the engine to provide hot water for the building. The tower’s architects and structural engineers followed post 9/11 guidelines for the design of tall buildings and The Shard’s plans were among the first in the UK to be updated following the subsequent publication of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology report. The Shard is designed to withstand significant stress. Its post-tensioned concrete and composite floors, load-bearing pillars and tapering shape giving it a sway tolerance of 400 millimetres.
All the hard work and planning came to end as the building was completed in 2012. Mr Baker says today, The Shard “is a living, dynamic building, full of energy, which has remained true to the original vision of a vertical city.” In addition to the tower’s private residences, The Shard’s tenants now include three restaurants, London’s only high-rise hotel, the Shangri-La; law firms, investment firms, tech companies, Al Jazeera’s broadcast studio, energy companies, consultancies and one of the world’s top business schools.
And then there are the visitors. Mr Baker says the building’s “outstanding architecture” drew a million visitors to the viewing platform in its first year, and that up to 6,000 people a day visit its restaurants and bars. The incredible design is also why, says the CEO, tens of thousands are expected to visit the luxurious Shangri-La, why its office occupants are reporting substantial uplift in new business since moving in, and “why Londoners, especially, embrace this magnificent building.”
The Shard’s proximity to London Bridge Station, which itself is being transformed into a 21st-century transport hub through which will flow a steady stream of 75 million people a year, provides easy access to the tower. Next door is The Shard’s stunning sister building, the News Building, also designed by Renzo Piano and headquarters of News UK, The Times, HarperCollins, Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. It is estimated that the two towers will be occupied by a combined 12,500 people, adding a new vibrancy to the London Bridge Quarter.
This is what Mr Baker calls the “Shard Effect”. “The success of the investment long term will be linked as much to The Shard effect on the local area as to the building itself. The Shard has been the catalyst for a much wider period of investment in London Bridge. There are more offices attracting successful, interesting businesses. These bring in an engaged workforce and this drives a boom in shops, restaurants and leisure in the area. Over time this can only enhance the initial investment.”
Though an appetite for high profile buildings is always likely to exist, Mr Baker says the smart investor must consequently look beyond the building itself to the surrounding area. “What is always interesting to me is the degree to which focus always lands on the building itself, or on London as a whole – when the really interesting story happens at local level, the impact that investment has on neighbourhoods and communities and how this in turn increases the value of an anchor building.”