thoughts on our urban future

Skylines & Icons

This morning I came across these really quite impressive visualisations of what London’s The Shard will look when finished from different areas of the city. They really illustrate quite well the ‘icon’ status it will have, how much it will feature on the skyline, taking over from the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe by Norman Foster) as arguably the most iconic tall building in London.

London Bridge is already an icon in people’s minds. There has been a bridge in this location for at least 2000 years, remaining the only crossing over the Thames until well into the 18th Century. It is intrinsically linked to the history of London as a place for trade and commerce.

Nevertheless, these days London Bridge is a rather unassuming place. The bridge itself is a functional concrete structure; and it is the area to the south of the bridge, clustered around London Bridge Station what is known as ‘London Bridge’. The station itself was never of particular interest or quality, and the areas around it are organised around the needs of motorised traffic, not least because of the bus routes serving the station. Not even the presence of the Borough Market with its ever increasing popularity and the Southwark Cathedral nearby make enough of a difference as the area remains, in my view, to be of generally poor quality in terms of townscape design and accessibility.

In that context it seems very fitting to have what is in reality a regeneration scheme for London Bridge. The development encompasses not only The Shard, but is in fact presented by the development as the London Bridge Quarter, made of a series of spaces around a revamped station including London Bridge Place, a 17-floor office building, a public piazza and a shopping precinct. The Shard itself will accommodate offices, a hotel, apartments and other public functions such as viewing galleries. The development has the potential to transform the London Bridge Area for the better, especially if they achieve creating a place which captures and contributes to the character of the area and not just another corporate environment.

But it will be ultimately the tall building that will have an impact on a much wider area. The Shard has memorable shape and will be visible from pretty much everywhere in the capital.  Does London need another icon? I wouldn’t think that is necessarily the case, but I am sure city will pride itself of having the tallest building in Europe. I expect the development will have a positive effect in its surrounding area, I expect the buildings to be of good quality, and I expect the Shard to appear on postcards and souvenirs. What I hope is that Lord Foster won’t feel the need to design an even taller building just to keep up.

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  1. If you were to place Europe’s tallest building in London, is the this location you would choose? I don’t think that level of analysis and design has accompanied the decision-making process with the Shard, or even with the greater London Bridge area regeneration plan…

  2. Whilst I fear you are probably right on the regeneration agenda I don’t know enough about the project to comment in more detail. I did reach the conclusion though that if you are out there to create a new icon London Bridge is not necessarily a bad place – but that is as far as I would go on the importance of an iconic buildng…

    • However, where would you put Europe’s tallest building in London, from a personal perspective? Would you build off the capitalistic, American-inspired Canary Wharf? Would you focus on the original financial centre of the Square Mile? Would it make sense to tie it into transport links – either Heathrow as one of the world’s busiest airports? Or even at Kings Cross/ St. Pancras as the rail link to Europe?

      What I do believe is that such a big building within the human-scaled London is a big statement, and based on its potential impact, should be debated and discussed to determine its location, rather than led through speculation and private interests.

      • From a personal perspective I would think it would have to go by a major transport hub, and I also think it should be central to a city (so not by an airport or on a fringe). I agree with Ximena that the area around London Bridge Station is a problem for the city. Particularly the edge where the shard actually touches ground- the cliff-edge barrier between the station and Guy’s Hospital.

        But I will also confess to not knowing overly much about the specific design and consultation project. I do know there are many small scale buildings and a strong local community in the area that the Shard could upset (though I more imagine it will be the subsequent development after the Shard that will change the local area, as the Shard is fairly concentrated).

        I will say this though, I sort of like the Shard so far. It looks massive and out of proportion and maybe even a bit strange. But I like it, and I like that it sits on top of what I might call one of London’s more neglected transportation hubs. It will be a quick hop from the Shard to Gatwick Airport, so that’s probably a bonus.

        It will be interesting to watch how it all unfolds.

  3. some building,saw programme on channel 4 last night on the building off the shard ,very good,woul,nt like to be the builders up that height.

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