Hugh Pearman

Towering extravagance

It’s a very good piece of architecture. But we don’t need it — or need to celebrate its developer Irvine Sellar

The Shard is an unnecessary building. Nobody apart from its developer asked for it to be built. Nobody was crying out for a big spike of concrete, steel and glass filled with a mix of superluxury hotel, ultraprime apartments and loads of speculative offices right above London Bridge station, with an expensive viewing gallery as a sop to public accessibility. Had it never happened, we would not regard the air it did not fill as a waste of atmosphere. The Shard is merely a gigantic financial speculation, majority-funded by Qatari money.

And yet it is a very good piece of architecture. Its veteran Italian architect, Renzo Piano, succeeded in designing a (by London standards) startlingly tall tower that is not like other very tall towers. Its angled, fractured sides do what he intended them to do, changing its appearance according to the sky conditions of a London he knows very well and loves. Like a glimmering Nash terrace in this one respect only, it is especially good on dank, drizzly days. So now it is there, this spiky barometer does serve a purpose in the long views and glimpsed snapshots we have of our capital. It is not formulaic. I reckon most people with open minds are glad it’s there. I’ve even had someone on a train, seeing me reading this book, strike up an interested conversation with me about the building: and believe me, my train face does not encourage such intercourse.

This, however, does not mean that they should rush out and buy the book. It is an account of the 15-year saga of the planning and building of the Shard, from first notions in 2000 to its eventual completion. It also tries to make interesting the person who single-mindedly drove it through, its developer Irvine Sellar.

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