FIRST THINGS FIRST: technically speaking, its name is a little misleading. If you look at the top of this mammoth pyramid, Western Europe’s tallest building, you’ll see that it shouldn’t be called ‘The Shard’ at all, but rather ‘The Shards’.
I’ve been meaning to go up The Shard for some time. It opened for visitors in February of this year, but anyone in London – or indeed anyone who has had their eye on London – will know that it’s been a familiar sight on the side of the Thames for a while, and I must admit that I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it at first. Every time I went to London, or saw the skyline on TV, it would get taller and taller, defying and dwarfing everything around it in true Tokyo fashion, and I didn’t like it. But on closer inspection, both metaphorically and visually, I can now appreciate architect Renzo Piano’s masterpiece. All right, all right – the traditionalists are probably still crying into their bowls of gruel outside Shakespeare’s Globe, and I do sympathise, but I am converted. Its concept and design are understated, sleek, and unquestionably modern – everything that would look out of place in this ancient corner of London where the Romans first bridged the river and where the side streets and prisons inspired the works of Dickens. Yet somehow this 244m-high skyscraper has slotted in almost seamlessly to the buildings and streets at its feet, and its presence on the ever-rising skyline is difficult to forget.
Once you step inside The View at The Shard, it’s clear that crisp black and silver was the colour scheme of choice, and even walking to the lifts that take you to the top, everything is so clean, precise and glistening that the scruffy back end of London Bridge station seems a long way away. As you stand with the ‘Guest Ambassadors’ who accompany you inside the sumptuous lifts that race upwards like some kind of businessman’s Great Glass Elevator, the height of this thing really starts to become apparent. Floor 34, 35, 36… 66, 67, 68… More quickly than you can even say ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator‘ are you at the top of The Shard. And the views from The View? Well, I’m sure you can imagine how spectacular they are. You can certainly appreciate them after you’ve un-popped your ears.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve watched a lot of The Apprentice or that I’ve seen London from the air a few times that seeing London from such a height doesn’t bowl me over as much as it did when I first took flight on the comparatively compact London Eye. But don’t get me wrong – these sorts of heights are not for the faint-hearted (or faint-legged), since the people below look like fleas from up here, and you can watch trains slowly glide off into the suburbs and beyond you’re so high up. However, something that struck me when I was letting a cantankerous American rant about how it was “time for Obama to get the hell outta the White House”, was the size of London. Of course, only from here can you appreciate the vastness of this city: the huge meanders of the river (of EastEnders fame), the army of cranes perpetually adding to London’s cityscape, the patches of green, the number of boats and other things floating on the Thames, the network of streets and railways radiating in all directions, all absolutely crammed with buildings – many old, many new – so to say the least, it’s staggering. Although the strange thing was that while you could see the sheer enormity of London because you were so high up, it looked relatively small for the same reason. Every other landmark looked small in comparison, seeming a lot closer to one another, and I could plainly see buildings and hills and towers in the outer reaches of London that I never realised were so close. Even on an afternoon that was just moments away from raining, London – large, small, whatever – looked as impressive as it always does. And from this height, where we’d be the first in London to know if it did rain, even more so. Anyway, I’ve promised myself to visit at dusk next time, which, as you can imagine, is the most popular time of day to go.
And as quickly as you go up, you descend – past the apartments, the hotel and the offices – and you’re back on terra firma leaving the glassy enclosure of goggly tourists and staunch Republicans 802ft above your head.
And no matter how much I fiddle with Instagram, the pictures won’t do it justice. I suppose you’ll have to brave the 72 floors for yourself.