Why the Shard stands out on London’s skyline

One of the most distinctive buildings on London’s skyline, the Shard merges design and sustainability to great effect.

October 15, 2018

“To me, The Shard was an innovative take on the modern glass skyscraper and it brought a new edge to London’s skyline.”

For Lauren Gwinnett, who works in business development at JLL subsidiary Tétris, The Shard is more than the tallest building in Western Europe – it has played a unique role in the evolution of central London.

A 95-storey tower that rises out of the closely built South Bank area, The Shard was named for its sharply inclining sides, paneled in glass that comprises an area of 56,000 square meters, the equivalent of eight football pitches.

“When it was first completed in 2012, I recall standing on the pavement and looking up in awe. It was such a standout building in terms of height and design, on a level with the skyscrapers that dominate the New York City skyline,” Gwinnett says. ”Back then, we weren’t used to such tall skyscrapers in London, so it was quite literally ground-breaking.”

Towering origins

In 2000, following a government white paper encouraging the development of tall buildings at major transport hubs, property developer Irvine Sellar contacted architect Renzo Piano about redeveloping the 1970s-era Southwark Towers. The Shard was conceived when Piano sketched the basic design – on the back of a restaurant menu – of a 310-meter-tall tower that would be over 30 percent higher than One Canada Square, the tallest building in the UK at the time.

Because the foundation piles of the previous building proved too difficult to remove, the new foundation had to be designed around them, impacting the final look of The Shard. “It would have been a design challenge – but The Shard itself was a very ambitious project, a tall building to be built in the tight confines between London Bridge and Guy’s Hospital,” says Gwinnett.

Construction didn’t begin until 2009, beset by planning and funding obstacles – including the 2008 financial crisis – that were only surmounted when Qatari investors stepped in to purchase 80 percent of the building’s equity.

Despite initial public concerns that The Shard would obstruct protected views of the capital, the building has since been embraced by the public as an iconic London landmark, the viewing gallery at its summit accessible to all. “I was lucky enough to have worked inside The Shard as part of a fit-out project and the views are incredible – you really can see for miles,” says Gwinnett.

A sustainable construction

As with many of London’s best-known towers, the glass exterior of The Shard plays a critical role in meeting sustainability criteria. The double-skin façade has a single-glazed outer layer of glass and double-glazed inner wall that create a ventilated inner cavity, with automated blinds that react to sunlight to maximize daylight while reducing heat gain inside.

The tower is estimated to require 30 percent less energy than typical tall buildings and received a rating of ‘Excellent’ on the BREEAM sustainability assessment, with 95 percent of its construction materials coming from recycled sources, along with 20 percent of the steelwork.

For those outside the building, the glass panelling has an aesthetic role. “The building reflects light in various ways at different times of day,” Gwinnet says. “The exterior can look golden at the right time of day.”

High influence

With luxury apartments, upmarket boutiques and restaurants, premium offices and a five-star hotel, The Shard has attracted people and companies to the surrounding area, helping to establish Southwark as a core business district and leading to the £1 billion redevelopment of London Bridge station.

“The Shard was critical in maintaining momentum in the regeneration of the South Bank. Transport links have improved and nearby residential areas such as Elephant and Castle and Bermondsey are seeing a positive impact too,” Gwinnett says. “It’s helped to make Southbank the area it is today, much like One Canada Square did in Docklands back in the early 90s.”

While The Shard may be one of the most distinctive features of London’s skyline, it’s nowadays facing competition in the design stakes. The so-called Scalpel, currently under construction at 52 Lime Street, is already known for its acute angles while the Cheesegrater at 122 Leadenhall Street boasts an idiosyncratic wedge shape.

“Skyscrapers are becoming more of a common sight in London – and the architecture is getting more creative – but The Shard is yet to have a serious competitor. With its standout design and prominent position, it still takes pride of place in London’s skyline,” Gwinnett concludes.