Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The largest shard of glass you'll ever see

LONDON/DESIGN: RENZO PIANO. This is not a city of skyscrapers, and it never will be.
Italian architect master Renzo Piano knew this, of course, when he set out to design one of Europe’s tallest buildings right in the center of London. Soon this building will dominate the skyline of this huge city, but not merely by its height.
It’s the shape that will make the Shard of Glass, the popular name for Piano’s 305-meter tower, so special.
Like a slender, extremely tall pyramid the building will reach for the sky right next to London Bridge Station, one of the city’s busiest spots just south of the Thames River. The glass exterior, in the form of eight huge “shards” as Piano calls them, will define the shape and visual image of the 72-floor tower.
The concrete core of the building is now some 20 stories high. The Shard of Glass is expected to be completed in 2012, just in time for the Olympic Games in London. It will be one of many new symbols of a great metropolis reclaiming center stage.
In a couple of weeks I will come back with a series of reports on the regeneration of London.
Even the critics of skyscrapers in London seem to like Piano’s addition to the cityscape.
“While generally suspicious of skyscraper incursions in London, this one is going to work for me: shiny, sparkly, cheeky, original and a bit kitsch”, wrote the Guardian’s sharp London blogger Dave Hill a few weeks ago.
“I’m planning to visit on day one. Will wave”, wrote Hill.
London’s boisterous mayor Boris Johnson uses the Shard of Glass in his speeches as an example of the city’s resurgence.
“I’m thinking of moving in just for the view of France”, he is often heard saying.
The tower will be a mixed-use building with offices in the wide base at the bottom, a hotel further up and residences at the top. The public will have access to the building and a viewing gallery near the top is expected to become one of London’s top attractions.
In an interview presenting the project, Renzo Piano underlines the special circumstances for a tall building like this in London.
“I don’t believe it is possible to build in London a tall building by extruding the same shape from the top to bottom. It would be too small at the bottom and too big at the top…the shape of (this) tower is generous at the bottom without arrogantly touching the ground, and narrow at the top, disappearing into the air like a 16th century ship’s pinnacle of the mast top of a very tall ship.”
The Shard is described as one of the most technologically advanced towers ever built. Its sustainable features include a triple-skin glass façade containing computer-controlled venetian blinds the will shield occupants from sun and reduce the need for air-conditioning.
Heat generated by computers in the offices will be used to help heat the hotel and apartments above. It is said that the building will use 30 percent less energy than other comparable buildings.
“Fractures” between the “shards” will provide ventilation for winter gardens throughout the building.
But the main sustainable feature of the “vertical city”, as Piano calls it, is its location. Occupants are expected to use public transportation and the huge building will only have room for 47 cars.
The project includes redevelopment of the train station concourse and bus station, and a new public square that will improve a neglected urban space where some 200,000 people pass through every day.
Renzo Piano, who has his workshop in Genua, is one the world’s most respected architects. He rose to fame with the Pompidou Center in Paris in the late 70’s. One of his latest achievements is the hailed Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
He is presently working on, among other things, a spectacular new art museum in Oslo, Norway.
Tomorrow we will look at another Piano project in London, a colourful addition to the city nearing completion.


Copyright (this photo and above, right): Sellar Property Group
The Shard of Glass will dominate London's skyline just south of River Thames.


Construction of the tower's core is well underway near London Bridge Station.