360-degree observation deck on the 72nd floor of the
Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe at 310m, London opens up like a pop-up book and the landmarks of St Paul's Cathedral, the Houses of
Parliament and Tower Bridge
look toy-town tiny.
Standing at the 244m-high
viewpoint, with the wind licking the jagged shards of glass that razor another
66m skywards, is both dizzying and enthralling. Up here, where the traffic is
reduced to a hum, you can trace the bends of the River Thames with your
fingertips, and the trains on the tracks below resemble collectable Hornby
models. The View from the Shard (the name given to
the public viewing galleries on floors 68 to 72), which opens to the public on
1 February, is indeed a view like no other.
Italian architect Renzo
Piano in 2000 and approved by then Deputy Prime Minister John
Prescott in 2003, this lightning bolt of a skyscraper on London’s South Bank appears
to have weathered the storm of initial criticism – including English Heritage, a public body that
protects and promotes the country’s historic environment, calling it “a spike through
the heart of historic London”. While the aesthetic appeal of this crystalline,
sculptured edifice remains debatable, there is no doubting its pulling power:
despite an advance online price of £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children,
tickets to the viewpoint are selling fast.
On entering the
Shard from London Bridge station, visitors are immediately treated to a glimpse
of British humour. Images of Alfred Hitchcock fleeing from the pigeons on
Trafalgar Square, George Orwell installing CCTV cameras and the Mayor of London
Boris Johnson polishing the shoes of his predecessor Ken Livingstone are among
the tongue-in-cheek caricatures that welcome you.
A classical soundtrack
by the London Symphony Orchestra plays in the lifts that rise to the 68th floor
in 60 seconds, racing past the many floors of office space, the five-star Shangri-La Hotel on floors 34 to 52 and
On the 68th
floor, dubbed the “cloudscape” for the cloud patterns that dance across its
windows, it is worth going to the “loo with a view” for sheer novelty value
(huge windows in the toilets afford magnificent open views over the city). From
this level, a flight of stairs leads to the first viewing gallery on floor 69.
In this triple-height atrium, touchscreen “tell:scopes” – digital telescopes
with touchscreens – digitally map out the city. Zoom in on a landmark and you
can bring up a description of it and view it live or at different times of day –
a bit of genius that makes this city of 8 million people feel both vast and
very, very small.