Ruminations on architecture, from Ken Allinson
Tag Archives: Shard
April 19, 2012Posted by on
January 1, 2012Posted by on
It was fascinating to sit in a lakeside café in Riva di Solto on a sunny New Year’s day: muttering ‘buon anno!’ to the locals in between sipping at luke-warm cappuccino (“Bollenti, per pavore! Bollenti … It’s bloody zero degrees out there!”) and tapping into the café owner’s monopolistic ADSL connection (which, for some very Italian reason no one else in the village is allowed to have) whilst reading the Guardian news (yes, I know: it’s a Sunday, but this is the internet), which happened to headline an article on the Shard, from a couple of days ago.
The ‘piece’ made an intriguing insight into the realities of architecture of a kind that would have warmed the heart of Georges Bataille: the almost complete Shard cast in the role of authoritative security symbol for the Quatar royal family, reassuring them that, come the inevitable invasion, the British government will remember that the Quataris own the tallest building in Europe and most beautiful in London, together with Harrods, the American embassy building in Grosvenor Square, and Chelsea Barracks – all of which, apparently, gives them one-upmanship over their neighbours in the Gulf as well as an ability to sleep well at night. It’s true.
In sum, we were told, the soaring Shard will include “27 floors of offices, three floors of fine dining restaurants, an 18-floor, five-star Shangri-La hotel with a spa, and 10 palatial apartments, each on average seven times bigger than a semi-detached home” There will be a “four-storey public viewing area is being built starting on the 68th floor which is likely to cost around £20 to access” and “the developer is even considering renting out the very highest room on the 78th floor for high powered conferences and political talks – summits at the summit.” It also seems that two of the apartments (spanning two entire floors each) are expected to become London homes for members of the Qatari royal family. But for the governor of Qatar’s central bank, Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud al-Thani, it’s all about diplomatic potential: the Shard would become “a symbol of the close ties between Qatar and the UK.” Architecture at London Bridge as a most significant aspect of the next Middle East war?
The underlying political reality – as pointed out by less–than-diplomatic journalists – upsets the developer and the dear Italian starchitect, Renzo Piano, for whom the project is indubitably about a building that gloriously and poetically “disappears into the sky.”
“This is not about money,” Piano protests, “It is about surprise and joy. This is about the way cities should go. They should stop and we should not go beyond the green belt. If you do this by going vertical that sends a message about conserving land. The building is not about arrogance and power but about increasing the intensity of city life.”
Well, yes, maybe … But judging by Guardian reader comments, that is exactly what many Londoners hope the building will do: somehow magically disappear – a disparity of viewpoints that highlights the gulf of a different kind between an alliance of the Quataris, the developer and architect, and the people of Southwark out there on the streets.
OK, so what’s new?
Perhaps so, but the architectural profession’s vocational prostitution nevertheless remains a continuing sad underbelly to its blinkered pretensions. That they daren’t admit to the truth and find it necessary to seek recourse in obfuscation is understandable but hardly excuses the reality of a bent-over posture, pants around the feet. Katy Perry comes to mind: architecture as a piece of ass – just name your price; wonderful …
But I hear the protest: “You’re missing the point. All this is merely an ‘aboutness’ blinkering you to the admirable concrete realities of the thing, as it gloriously is, in itself.” I admit: you have a point … But for God’s sake, get real … (A wonderful phrase. One could write a PhD on it.)