Europe’s tallest skyscraper opens for business

At 309 metres tall, the Shard towers over the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.

For three years, Londoners have watched as a giant structure of concrete and glass rises above the skyline. It is the Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper, and tonight it officially opens.

Tonight London will be illuminated by a spectacular, futuristic light show. Lasers will sear the skyline; searchlights will roam the night sky. At the centre of this glitz will be a giant pyramid of glass, 309 metres high: the Shard. Today, when it opens for business, it will officially become Europe’s tallest building.

The Shard looms above the Thames like a jagged spike of ice. On a bright day, the sunlight reflects spectacularly off its slanted sides. It is an unquestionably imposing monument.

But according to its owners, the Shard is more than just another skyscraper: it is a city within a city. It will house hotels, restaurants, luxury apartments, shops and offices. On the summit, a viewing deck will offer dizzying 360 degree panoramas of the city.

Inside, the climate is finely tuned with minimal use of energy. Light, warmth and air are channeled into open-plan rooms. And since the Shard is located at the transport hub of London Bridge, only forty-seven parking spaces are needed.

During the golden age of skyscrapers in the early 20th Century, many dreamed of such ‘vertical cities.’ Above, people would live side-by-side in spacious, rationally-planned apartments. Lower floors would be filled with bustling shops. On the ground, green spaces would flourish, while super efficient cars and trains zoomed about in tunnels below.

The Shard offers a glimpse of this future; but not everybody is invited. Its hotels and restaurants are among the most expensive in Britain; its offices will be occupied by super-rich hedge funds. The apartments will not even be advertised: fewer than a hundred people in the world are wealthy enough to afford them.

Meanwhile down below, living space is desperately needed. Many workers are unable to afford property close to the city centre; large families squeeze into two-bedroom houses, and still struggle to pay the bills.

Still, the Shard’s architect believes that his creation can be an ‘icon for London.’ Time will tell if London learns to love it and agree.

Shard-enfreude

‘What is there not to love?’ ask futurists. The Shard is luxurious, awesome, and sustainable. It showcases the most sophisticated technology and architecture, and offers a glimpse of a thrilling future. Of course not everybody can enjoy it just yet, they say – it comes straight from the cutting edge. But only the unimaginative could fail to be excited.

This soulless monstrosity is anything but exciting, say opposition groups. It is monument to arrogance and greed. Its futuristic flashiness is only a way of elevating the super-rich above ordinary citizens; a hideous social divide cast in concrete and glass. If that is the future, we should fight it tooth and claw.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather live in an airy apartment in a perfectly planned, eco-friendly skyscraper, or a characterful Victorian terraced house?
  2. What characteristics do skyscrapers most represent to you: arrogance and greed, or boldness and modernity?

Activities

  1. Draw the plan for an imaginatively-designed skyscraper, with each feature fully labelled.
  2. Write a descriptive essay about a day in the life of a city dweller in the year 2100. Include descriptions of how architecture, technology and daily life might have changed.

Some People Say...

“Skyscrapers are the ultimate form of vanity.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is this really the future, or just a one off?
We can’t predict the future for certain, of course. But there has been some talk recently of a ‘second golden age’ of skyscrapers. Indeed, the Shard will only keep its title as Europe’s tallest building for a few months before it is overtaken by Moscow’s Federation Tower. And upward is not the only direction that cities might spread...
What’s that supposed to mean?
Many architects believe that the ‘next frontier’ is not in the skies, but underground. The idea is that everything functional and ugly – factories, warehouses, recycling centres – can be buried. Above ground will be reserved for housing, parks and schools. In some hi-tech cities cities like Almere in the Netherlands, this is already starting to happen.

Word Watch

Europe’s tallest building
In fact, the Shard has been the tallest building in Europe for several months. A building is not counted on all official lists, however, until it is officially in use.
Spike of ice
The architect, Renzo Piano, imagined the Shard as a ‘sail rising from the Thames.’ But it was soon being compared to a ‘shard of ice’ by admiring onlookers – or of glass by angrier ones. This nickname stuck, and the backers happily adopted it.
Golden age of skyscrapers
Wealthy rulers and merchants have been competing to build taller and taller towers for centuries. In Medieval times, for instance, Italian cities like Siena and Bologna became filled with soaring Church towers. But modern skyscrapers only became feasible with two 19th Century inventions: the electrically-operated elevator, and the concrete frame. This led to a huge rash of high-rise building, focused especially in New York. Between 1910 and 1930, iconic towers like the Chrysler Building and Empire State popped up all over the city.
Hedge funds
Hedge funds are financial companies that gamble money on international markets. Very wealthy individuals or professional investors like pension funds give money to hedge funds to try to increase its value as fast as possible. They are sometimes said to account for around half of all stock market activity, and there is a lot of controversy surrounding their regulation.

Subjects

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