Irvine Sellar, The Shard’s developer, had an ambitious vision to create an architecturally striking vertical city incorporating retail, offices, hotel, apartments, restaurants and a public viewing gallery. His idea was to build a diverse vibrant community, and provide multiple areas within which the public could experience the building and its magnificent views. And all of this astride one of London’s major transport hubs.
Sellar acquired Southwark Towers, occupied by PwC, as an investment in November 1998. When the UK government shortly afterwards began encouraging high-density developments close to transport hubs, Sellar set about planning a world-class building that would capture people’s imagination. He arranged lunch in Berlin with award-winning architect Renzo Piano and, Sellar says, the architect’s initial reaction was far from encouraging: “Renzo said: ‘You know, I hate tall buildings – they are arrogant, aggressive, like fortresses.’ I thought it was going to be a short lunch.
“But there was something about the energy of the railway lines and the beauty of the Thames that appealed to him. So Renzo turned over his menu and started to sketch. What he drew in a matter of seconds bears a remarkable resemblance to The Shard today.“ Having seen the sketch, Sellar told Piano that if he would sign it and sign up, then he would build The Shard. Piano wrote: “To Irvine from Renzo, May 2000 Berlin” – and The Shard journey was under way.
Some challenging years followed, during which the project overcame a lengthy planning process and a high-profile public inquiry, only for investment to slip away following the global economic crash. But The Shard’s future was assured in 2008 when the State of Qatar came on board as a partner who shared Sellar’s vision. The construction phase was exhilarating and testing in equal measure. The team overcame sub-zero temperatures, gale force winds and the Thames breaking through the protective dam.
Pioneering engineering methods were used, such as top-down construction, where foundations are dug while the core is built up – a first for the UK. Over one 36-hour period – employing 700 lorry-loads, one every three minutes – the team poured 5,400 cubic metres of concrete. The years of hard work and ingenuity came to fruition in 2012, when The Shard was completed and officially opened by the Prime Minister of Qatar. Since then, its restaurants, hotel and viewing gallery have opened to the public and tenants have begun to move into its offices.
“The vision for The Shard was to create an architecturally striking vertical city incorporating retail, offices, hotel, apartments, restaurants and a public viewing gallery.”
Today, The Shard is a living, dynamic building, full of energy. Its sits proudly next to its stunning sister building, The News Building, now headquarters to News UK and illustrious titles and media brands: The Times, HarperCollins, Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. These two Renzo-designed buildings will be occupied by 12,500 people and are already establishing a new vibrant community - London Bridge Quarter.
The finished building remained true to the original vision of a “Vertical City” with multiple and different occupiers, many of which will operate 24 hours a day, including hotel, education, medical, tourist attraction, residential, retail, restaurant, and offices. The Shard’s proximity to London Bridge Station, which itself is being transformed into a 21st-century transport hub used by 75 million people a year, means travelling to it is a smooth experience for occupiers and visitors alike.
On 5 July 2012 The Shard was formally inaugurated by His Excellency Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, and HRH the Duke of York KG, in an event that marked the physical completion of the exterior of the building and represented the culmination of a 12-year journey to build a significant new landmark on the London skyline. The inauguration was also marked by a spectacular light and laser show that illuminated the building.
“Standing at almost 310 metres, The Shard will be one of the tallest buildings in Western Europe. For me however, the height of The Shard is only secondary. What is special is the solid and continuing relationship between two nations - Qatar and Britain - which has been an important factor in completing this project.”