“Its like an intergalactic spear!” enthused London’s colorful mayor, Boris Johnson, as he cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony in February. To most Londoners it is The Shard. Soaring 87 stories above the city, its angular crown reaching skywards. Clad with 11,000 glass panels, enough to cover to cover 8 soccer fields, it gleams on sunny days. On foggy ones the top is enshrouded in cloudy wraiths.
Tallest in Western Europe
The Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe, began as London Bridge Tower. However Londoners have a way of bringing architectural newcomers down to size. No sooner had Italian architect Renzo Piano released plans, it was given its snappy moniker. Thus The Shard joined The Gherkin, Walkie-Talkie, Cheese–Grater, Onion and Pinnacle, buildings which are rapidly changing London’s skyline. (When construction slowed on The Pinnacle it was ignominiously referred to as The Stump). Intergalactic Spear, London Bridge Tower, The Shard – whatever its name I could not wait to see it and the views from the top.
Emerging from London Bridge tube station the sky was bright blue. However as sunset was close the towering edifice was casting long shadows on encompassing narrow streets of Victorian brick buildings. The entrance was as inauspicious as the surroundings but when the doors of the lift opened and I walked out onto the viewing floor I gasped. The whole of London was spread below me in a 360 degree panorama like a beloved intricate carpet.
The View at Sunset
To the West the golden orb of the sun hung just above the horizon. I could see the silhouette of the British Telecom Tower, opened in 1965 and then London’s tallest landmark. Visitors were clustered by the windows, cameras and smartphones poised watching the sun. I walked to the otherside where the Tower of London and Tower Bridge lay, almost at my feet. It was jaw-dropping, almost other worldly. The contemporary music track the perfect adjunct.
Open Air Viewing Platform
I took the stairs to the top viewing platform which is open to the sky. From east-facing windows I looked at the Thames meandering around the Isle of Dogs now home to the Canary Wharf Financial Center. The tallest building of this cluster, Canada House was bathed in golden sunset glow.
The Isle of Dogs so named, it is said, because it is where Edward III kept his greyhounds, and later Henry VIII his hunting dogs. When the British Empire was at its zenith it was the center of dockland where goods from around the world were unloaded. It was an obvious target for the Luftwaffe in WW2. Night after night it was bombed, the sky orange with flames reflected in the water of the river.
Roman Legions Sailed up The Thames
The more I looked on London below me, history unfolded. The Romans arriving 2000 years ago, sailing up the river and building Londinium, a square mile enclosed by walls, some of which still stand. The Tower of London built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, Southwark Cathedral whose history goes back 1000 years and The Monument, its top gleaming with gold leaf – the spot where the Great Fire of London began in 1666 in a bakers oven. There were the spires of many Christopher Wren churches, and of course his masterpiece St. Pauls Cathedral which miraculously survived the Blitz.
As shadows lengthened street lights began to twinkle. On bridges across the Thames they hung in golden chains reflected in the water.
On Ludgate Hill St. Pauls Cathedral with its graceful dome appeared an elegant counterpoint to box-like commercial shapes crowding its precinct. The blue lights of the Milennium Bridge traced a path across the river to the Tate Modern comfortable in its angular reworked power station space.
London Population will soon be greater than New York City
As London grows taller the population is also growing. It may soon be a city of 9 million people exceed the population of New York. More and more London is a city of contrasts. The 21st century has already changed the skyline. Controversy rages of course and UNESCO is concerned about historic buildings. However to maintain its stature as a global financial center and to cope with increasing population London has no choice but to reach for the stars. It absorbed Romans, William the Conqueror and successive waves of immigrants. No doubt it will also gracefully absorb The Gerkin, Cheese-Grater, Shard and more.