(photography by Jeffrey Kilmer)
Far removed from China and the Middle East, where super-tall buildings are sprouting like weeds, there’s a spectacular 1,017-foot tall, 72-story glass tower taking shape. It’s the London Shard, under construction in the south side of the city near London Bridge. Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the Shard will be Europe’s tallest building. But unlike so many other contemporary skyscrapers, which are obsessed with sheer height, the Shard has rather complex ambitions. Its state-of-the-art frame and cladding systems were designed to maximize energy and materials conservation. Its planning, begun in 2000, was refined after 9/11 to incorporate stringent fireproofing and exit guidelines. And it wasn’t conceived as a stack of office floors but as a kind of vertical village, with atriums to connect interior spaces. The tower will house offices below and, above them, restaurants, a hotel, and observation galleries. Right now floor framing has been completed and cladding and construction of the pinnacle are underway, with the building scheduled for completion in May 2012.
Though the Shard won’t challenge skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa or the Shanghai World Financial Center in height, it’s bound to eclipse them in character. Similar to One World Trade Center in New York City, which is also in mid-construction, the Shard has gently canting walls that give it a distinctive, pyramid-like shape. But it has a much smaller, triangular footprint than the New York tower, and doesn’t resolve itself into a neat geometry. Its sides will taper to slender, asymmetrical panes at the very top that pull away from the core like petals. Renzo Piano is renown for making buildings with simple, striking volumes and finely-layered glass skins, so there’s little doubt that the Shard’s exterior shell will be beautifully rendered. Its tall, attenuated profile will furnish a fresh icon for the city. And the tower will make a graceful partner for the faceted, cigar-shaped tower that architect Norman Foster built in 2003 across the river at 30 St. Mary Axe, better known as the Gherkin. Like that other tower, the Shard will wear its not-entirely-flattering nickname with pride.