Friday, 6 July 2012

The Shard

I watched the Shard being built with interest: the plans, the controversy, the unusual construction mechanism (building upwards before building the foundations), the infiltration by base-jumpers; and I doubted I would like it.

On Sunday we went on a walk through London, and the Shard was visible for much of the way. Sencan instantly liked it, and my muted disapproval melted away as I approached. We would occasionally glimpse it around a bend in the river, or through a gap between buildings, its weird shape tantalising and enticing us onwards. By the time I reached its base at London Bridge, I loved it despite myself.

That great aim of architects and planners around the world - context - was scrunched up into a ball and thrown out of the window. The tower's context is all wrong: it is on the other side of the river from the large towers of the City; worse, it brutalises a large part of London.

But what a brutalisation. Viewing the Shard is like being hammered from behind by a large ape. However you find with shock that would could be horrific and bestial is actually rather enjoyable; a secret thrill.

It is the shape of the Shard that does it: nowhere near as phallic as the Canary Wharf Tower (especially in its earlier days, with the two much-lower buildings that flanked the tower). The Shard looks more alien, like a spaceship has landed and is awaiting permission to take off for an unknown destination. It makes the many towers at Canary Wharf seem both old-fashioned and unnecessary. Who wants a New York or Chicago skyline when we can have something so different?

Although the tapered shape is fairly novel, the eponymous 'shards' at the top are the real gimmick. They make the tower look incomplete, as if the builders have just gone for a tea-break and will be back soon. Or perhaps it really is an alien spacecraft that has landed in the city to await repairs after a prang with an asteroid.

I have no doubt that the Shard will not last as long as the Tower of London, or have such an illustrious and varied story. But, for the moment at least, it is a welcome newcomer to London's skyline.