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BLOG: The Shard

Posted on 5th June 2019

As part of our inspiring buildings series MEB Design Architect Sadiqa Jabbar, reflects on Renzo Piano’s The Shard, and her architectural journey. Check out her blog below.

Renzo Piano, The Shard and my Architectural Journey

 

The Shard

From my early perception of architecture – a high earning profession designing iconic buildings and travelling all over the world – to reality as a practicing community-centric architect with a focus on design that makes a difference to people, my aspirations and perception of architecture has changed vastly.

However that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate good architecture. If anything I have transformed from a timid and passive kid to an independent and more confident woman no longer afraid to hold particular views – even if it goes against the status quo!

When I first embarked on my architectural journey, I was a clueless kid. I had very little to no true knowledge of the profession. With no industry connections this seemed an even more detached and far fetched career aspiration.

Although not yet fully aware of the level of his influence, I was vaguely aware of the Mackintosh typography and interior design style. A school History exercise exploring fenestration styles that distinguished a Georgian from a Victorian to an Edwardian design was very interesting.

That was the only link and knowledge of architecture I had up to that point in my life.

A mock university interview, set up by my sixth form careers department in November 2000, was my first interaction with the architectural profession. The local practice comprised a male-female partnership based on Tooley Street, London Bridge. I was so afraid of meeting them.

There were two questions that I had a feeling might be asked: ‘What is your favourite building?’ ‘Who is your favourite architect?’ I didn’t know! Without true knowledge of the profession nor connections within the industry at that time, I felt like a fraud!

So in my rush to prepare, I looked online to find out more and came across an article pertaining a certain architect and a certain building going through pre-planning public consultation at the time. I thought ‘that seems relevant’; this looks like an architect worth mentioning, and that there was an interesting building.
Quick, print. I took it with me and presented this to them in my ‘interesting architecture and design’ scrapbook and design portfolio. On reflection I am 100% sure that they probably saw through that. Ha!

The Shard

19 years on (I feel so old!), reflecting on how my journey started and why, I wondered about this experience and found the scrapbook and lo and behold guess what I found. The article that I took with me to meet the architects all those years ago.

The architect in the story turned out to be THE Renzo Piano, and the building, The Shard. This article, ‘Architect seeks to top Canary Wharf’ is still available on the BBC website.

Within this context experiencing the building in recent years is quite the coincidence. Therefore I couldn’t resist writing a ‘short’ piece on The Shard!

From conceptualisation in 2000, completion in 2012, to being fully occupied in 2017, it is amazing how long architectural projects can take to materialise. Most people are unaware of what is at stake behind-the-scenes between the conceptualisation and occupation of buildings. But that’s another story!

The building as it stands now is an amazing piece of sculpture in the heart of the one of the main London transport hubs. Being a South Londoner and one who travels through London Bridge regularly, to me The Shard is a landmark that signifies that I’m almost ‘home’.

From a distance the reflectivity of the glass enables it to blend into the sky. Almost appearing like an embossed pattern on a piece of fabric. The form itself was inspired by the spire of a cathedral, in the architect’s own words, it is reminiscent of “a spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames.” Indeed it is.

It also reminds me of Lord of the Rings’ ‘Mordor’. On a very cloudy day and during special festivals, look at it from a distance…it jst needs the digital display of the all-watching ‘Eye’! [Having just Googled “the shard mordor”, clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so!]

The Shard

Irvine Sellar’s “vision for The Shard was to create an architecturally striking vertical city incorporating retail, offices, hotel, apartments, restaurants and a public viewing gallery.” Officially fully occupied since 2017, the building is indeed full of life. Bringing people together for a variety of reasons.

Together with Grimshaw’s recently revamped London Bridge terminus below (blog-worthy architecture in its own right) the London Bridge area has been revitalised with an extra buzz of life and activity.

The canopies sheltering the platforms below provide framed views of the tower. The way it’s elegant form rises up and narrows at the summit feels epic. On a cloudy or foggy day more so as it disappears into the clouds.

The experience of rising through the tower is interesting as you can feel your ears popping the higher you up you go. However due to the smoothness of the ascension, you don’t realise the speed of the elevator’s movement. The only reminder being the rapid change of numbers graphically.

The interactive displays in the elevator brings a typically mundane experience to life. Through carefully designed audio and visuals the timelapse of a typical day in the city is breathtaking. This sets up what we’re about to experience thereafter.

As you exit the lift and before entering the main viewing platform, the audio visual exhibition narrating the story behind the development of London Bridge and The Shard brings to life all the ideas, thoughts and people involved. The format is far more interactive than a static exhibition. It reminded me of NYC’s One World Observatory experience.

And then the 360 views are revealed. Epic.


Credit: Tim E White, Getty Images.

Out on the viewing platform itself, the building’s glass wraps around you while partially exposing the roof to the open air like broken shards. You get a feeling of being outdoors while remaining inside. The wind pressure is so strong that it feels as if you will get blown off the tower. Which of course would never happen!

The views from the top are breathtaking and compete with that of the London Eye. On a clear day, you can see the city in its entirety and remnants of the suburbs beyond. The view of the river and train tracks snaking through the built environment and the toy-like looking bridges crossing over are spectacular.

You can clearly see London’s trees and green spaces (we have quite a number!) filling in the spaces between the built fabric. I imagine the view during the night must be spectacular as London’s night springs to life within a sea of glimmering lights, the viewing platform sparkling like a jewel in the crown.

The Shard

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