Thursday, 8 March 2012

The pointy bit at the top

On a near-daily basis, I have the privilege of visiting the centre of my home town, London, UK. I make no bones about it; I love London. The whole world is here, as you can hear by simply trying to pry into unintelligible conversations on the tube (and that's just the student Aussie bar staff). It has a huge history too; of dinosaurs and mammoths, Neolithic settlers, Romans, Angles and Saxons, Normans, Tudors, Stuarts, Victorians, lots I've missed out, and us. So we have history, and culture from around the world, and this in turn leads to wonderful arts, incredible cuisines, and architecture. And on it goes too. In my lifetime London has evolved hugely.

The problem of course is that this diversity does not always result in good things, even if you acknowledge that a modern metropolis like ours has to live and breathe, and move forwards. For me, my inner jury is still out (if you see what I mean) on the subject of The Shard. (By the way, I like to add helpful links, but be warned: follow this only if you want to link to what is surely the world's MOST up its own bottom internet place. Sorry, the author of this Blog is NOT responsible for the content of external sites!)

Soon to be (at least temporarily) Europe's tallest building, The Shard next to London Bridge station (Wikipedia's refreshingly simple site -- what a relief) is undoubtedly a huge engineering achievement. It is spectacular; once I thought the Guys Hospital building right next door was something of a giant, but The Shard just dwarfs it, almost crushing it under an arrogant city-financed boot. And it's not even finished yet. There's a bit of glazing still to do, I dare say it needs a coat of paint on the inside, and then there's the pointy bit at the top.

I saw a documentary somewhere about it. Apparently, the top section is over 500 tonnes in weight, and has been constructed in Yorkshire. It will be delivered in various pieces, which will then be reassembled at the top and complete the job of making The Shard shardy. It will be hoisted into position by a huge crane currently bolted to The Shard's side (the fearless or mad operator of which has balls as big as very big balls).

All very awe inspiring. But it's Olympic year, and London is a building site in anticipation of being the centre of the world's attention in August. Everywhere I go there are new hotels presumably hoping to charge thousands of pounds per Olympic week. There are builders and plant everywhere, including, rather inconveniently, a construction obstruction on my walk to the office. Forget the Olympic Park itself, that's the least of London's worries. I counted twelve cranes from my office window alone which will surely have to go to avoid making us look like a hoist-based construction theme park when the Olympic cameras arrive. The Shard is no exception. Can all these disparate builders do it in time? Watch this space.

Meanwhile, The Shard pokes further upwards, violating both sky and skyline. How sad that from Hampstead Heath's Parliament Hill, the direct line of sight silhouetting St Paul's Cathedral now incorporates The Shard as a backdrop. My beloved London moves on, and I acknowledge and even embrace its evolution. But one of my favourite views vanishes. It's a little thing, but still it makes me kind of sad.

Update 2 May, 2012: Just watched a documentary on Channel Four about the Shard's construction. They're all mad! But it's just about ready - no going back now.

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