Piercing the Shard

Andrew Curry writes: The Shard is inescapable from our London office. The city’s soon-to-be tallest building, a piece of concept architecture by Renzo Piano, can be seen from our office windows and most of the approaches to the office.

Obviously, size matters, at least to architects of a certain age and a certain gender. And it also seems to matter at a certain time. As the economist Andrew Lawrence has demonstrated with his Skyscraper Index, announcements of buildings billed as the tallest are an unerring leading indicator of the top of the market, that boom is about to go bust.

Behind the branding of ‘the Shard’, the building’s brochure promotes a “vertical city”, which seems not so much cutting edge as strange sixty-year old Corbuserian throwback. But in a sharp post over at the London Review of Books, Rosemary Hill points out what a modern city The Shard would be – a city with no public space:

A city without a centre, no school of course, or church, or art gallery, town hall or library, just a great glass millefeuille of individuals getting on. … Other, horizontal cities are going the same way: selling off town halls, letting high streets wither in the blast of supermarket competition and closing libraries.

Of course, the privatisation of public space has been one of the recurring themes of the last fifteen years, the darker underside of property-led regeneration. London’s City Hall, for example, eight hundred metres downriver from the Shard, sits on land which seems like public space but which is privately controlled (as protesting photographers pointed out recently). Le Corbusier had an honest ambition to build a city in the sky. For the Shard, it’s just marketing. But in a recession, you have to drum up some excitement about all that empty space.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by The Futures Company designer Gus Newsam. It is published here under a Creative Commons licence.

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