In defence of the Shard

A peek with our digital stepladder over the Times paywall to see some of what Will Self wrote about Renzo Piano’s Shard in London:

“At dinner with a table of design professionals, including Terence Conran, I found myself defending the Shard, the 1,000ft incisor of a building currently being implanted in the rotten old gums of the Thames’s banks to the immediate south of London Bridge. Not just defending the Shard but positively eulogising it, while my companions appeared suitably bemused. They – and you – might well have suspected that I’d be agin’ the thing, as an example of all that’s fatuously overblown in the modern urban environment.

“After all, does any city – and in particular London – really need another slab of concrete with a glassy sheen stuffed full of financial services, a luxury hotel and assorted other romping rooms for the mega-rich consumer? Especially now. There’s a concept that bridges economics with urban theory called the ‘skyscraper index’, according to which the tallest building in the world tops out immediately before – in any given economic cycle – the stock market crashes. I’m not sure that the theory can be applied at the microlevel of the individual nation, and certainly Britain seems only to partially confirm the hex of the hypertrophic. One Canada Square, 770ft, the signature building of the Canary Wharf development, was completed immediately before the 1991 downturn, while Tower 42, 600ft (formerly the NatWest Tower), was fully erect in 1980, just in time for the economy to go floppy, but the Heron Tower, 663ft, was finished in the bust year of 2010, while the rather more modest Partagas Perfecto, known as the Gherkin, inflated to 591ft in the contrastingly boom year of 2004.

“Some of its opponents succumbed to schadenfreude at the end of September 2007, when it looked as if the Shard was tempting fate with its lofty hubris demolition of the existing building on the site was halted, owing, it was said, to the gathering storm in world financial markets. But then, joy of joys, those genies of the built environment (they make everything bigger), the Qataris, stepped in and financed the upthrust by buying a £150 million stake and taking full control. It was perhaps a bit of a downer for Irvine Sellar, the London developer who had chivvied, bullied and generally augured the Shard into getting planning permission from such architectural luminaries as Ken ‘Chav-ez’ Livingstone and John ‘Two Ministries’ Prescott, but hell, the important thing was that the behemoth was being built …”

“… As for worrying that the Shard marks the beginning of a Manhattanisation (or Dubaiifying) of London, there’s no chance of that. Even a well-built splinter of modernity such as this is still built to only a 50-year spec – plenty of people alive today will see it being implanted, and see it getting wrenched out again.”