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Architectural Design  

London's New Master

Elegant, evocative and truly enormous; The Shard, London's new Master, is the glittering cloud-poking pinnacle of exogenous investment on British shores, but is there a point behind the sky-pricking?
 London's new Master
 
 

The Shard is stunning.  Renzo Piano’s 21st century glass spire of sky-scraping bravado is no doubt a picturesque landmark, however it has the potential to transcend its current power as a single building and become the protagonist for the resuscitation of Britain’s fledgling construction trade through further foreign investment.  

But is the sprouting summit of Southwark simply endemic of the world economic crisis? Will history see The Shard as just another chapter in the ‘skyscraper curse’? Or, will the ‘vertical city’ stand as a captivating effigy of potential future successes of London’s building business? At Construction Digital, we’ve picked the brains of industry experts, architects, plus The Shard’s contractors themselves to find out.

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A Vertical City

Standing 309.6 meters high on London’s South Bank, The Shard is comfortably the tallest building in Western Europe.  A vertical city, Renzo Piano’s ‘sparkling, gentle spire’ (as he describes it), will house luxury office space, an ultra-exclusive collection of residential properties, Britain’s first Shangri-la Hotel and Spa, as well as restaurants and the capital’s highest viewing platforms. 

The colossal spire plays host to 72 inhabitable floors, the highest being at 259.9 feet, 306 flights of stairs (and 44 lifts, if you don’t fancy the 300 flights),31.4 acres of gross floor area, all housed by a beautiful glass case, the area of which equates to eight football pitches. 

More than an individual construct, The Shard is part of a host of buildings which make up the London Bridge Quarter - a regeneration program linking The Shard and its sister development, The Place, with two underground lines, bus services and a mainline station.  The Shard is benefiting the area of Southwark in abundance. 

“The Shard is a magnet; it will be a catalyst for further development in Southwark”, Baron Phillips, Spokesperson for the London Bridge Quarter, told Construction Digital.  “Investors are looking at Southwark with interest now; the scope for further construction is there, and more investors will be drawn in by this iconic landmark.” 

Throughout its 12 year history, The Shard has been fraught with challenges: financial issues, condemnation from heritage bodies and government intervention.  The spire which now surveys Southwark is a testament to the overcoming of these issues, to the determination, persistence and tenacity of the monumental project.

Like any fresh domineering article, almost everybody has an opinion on the merits of The Shard. 

Kamran Moazami, the UK Head of Discipline for WSP, (structural and service engineers on The Shard) told us: “The majority of Londoners love the building and consider it a great work of engineering and architecture.  It is probably one of a few buildings in the world that has been praised by most architects.”

Not everyone agrees however; author Owen Hatherley contends that The Shard is simply “rammed into Southwark,” whilst architecture critic Pete Buchanan jibes: “The Shard and its stubby brother are indictments of Britain’s negotiated planning system, prone to steamrollering by the combination of starchitects and big bucks, aided by and resulting in the dismal architectural legacy of Mayor Ken Livingstone, his advisor Richard Rogers.”

Even the harshest critics cannot help but feel a little impressed by the grandstanding Shard; after all, everyone likes a show off.

Phillips argues that The Shard’s critics will warm to the idea: “when a new building pops up on the skyline that is as vast as The Shard, there are bound to be people who don’t like it.  Modern change is often unpopular, just look at St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower when they first appeared.” 

Sustainable Superstructure

The Shard is a feat of engineering in many ways, but where it is garnering much of its praise is in its attitude to environmentalism.  “In today’s era it is the responsibility of all design disciplines to design and build projects that are sustainable.  Due to the nature of tall buildings, if elements are designed to be sustainable then they multiply quickly and become easier to replicate, so setting a good target for energy reduction in The Shard was a must,” says Moazami. 

The green credentials are there; 95 percent of the building materials used on The Shard have been recycled, and the 11,000 panel façade reduces the heat from the sun, thus drastically decreasing the need for air conditioning throughout the building - The Shard is certainly a clever brute.  Given an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating, and with its own combined heat and power plant (CHP) inside the building, it is estimated that the building can reduce carbon emission by 10 percent.  The whole building only has only 48 car parking spaces, encouraging the buildings’ inhabitants to use public transport.   Thought by no means the greenest building in the world, the expertise gained by young engineers on this overtly sustainable project will be invaluable in an increasingly environmental-centric future. 

From Burj Khalifa to Bermondsey

The Shard is currently an anomaly in the UK’s ailing construction industry; four of the last five quarters have shown losses for the industry and the volume of output industry-wide is down 7.4 percent from the first quarter of 2011 and 9.5 percent on this time last year.  And of course, there is that odd factoid about skyscrapers being harbingers of economic damnation; Chicago’s 269 foot Auditorium, the 309 foot New York World Building, The Chrysler building and  the Petronas Towers all slightly pre-dated economic catastrophes in their countries of origin.  Co-incidentally, 45 percent of all skyscrapers being built in the world today are in China. 

All of this means that The Shard simply cannot rest on its lofty laurels; further investment is needed for the project to be considered a success in the eyes of the construction sector at large.

Speaking to Peter Murray, Chairman of New London Architecture, he said; “I met the Queen of Denmark during the Olympics and almost the first thing she said to me was how much she liked The Shard; and the Danes know about design!”

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Peter’s story goes further than a tale of anecdotal engrossment – The Shard needs to inspire foreign investment, and whilst the Queen of Denmark may not be prepared to plunge billions into Southwark, there are those who do have that aim in mind, and they are looking at The Shard and readying wallets:

“Further Middle Eastern investment in UK construction in the future is an absolute certainty,” says Phillips.  “The Shard is groundbreaking; it will be a magnet for further investment in this area and others in London and the UK – it will act as a catalyst, and ultimately UK contractors will benefit from that.”

“The trend [towards further investment in large projects in the UK] will continue.  London is a successful city and will continue to grow in this sense.”

The Shard will not put an end to the UK’s construction woes, or even London’s,  however it is a step in the right direction;  a glorious phoenix from the flames of financial turmoil, with the potential to inspire a new generation of investment in Britain – London’s new Master has finally arrived.

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