Monday, 31 January 2011

The Shard: London's newest tallest building

London, Britain even, has a new tallest building. The Shard is still on the way up - this is how it looked last week - but it has already gone higher than One Canada Square at Canary Wharf. This may sound ridiculously obvious, but it really is incredibly high: to stand beneath it and look towards its disappearing summit is to look into a place where nothing, apart from the occasional feral pigeon or police helicopter, has any right to be.

Its designer, Renzo Piano of Pompidou Centre fame, has said that its top "would come to almost nothing", by which he means, I think, a point, above which will be exactly nothing. After 72 storeys, including a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck, there will be another 15 "radiator floors".

It is difficult to pass judgment on a building that isn't even finished yet, but the Shard does look a little remote from the rest of London's high-rise architecture, and I get the feeling that its glassiness and straight lines will mean it ages quickly. As I draw it from London Bridge, people continually stop, stare and photograph it. And from an unrepresentative sample of a couple of conversations with them, praise was not immediately forthcoming.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Getting ready for 2012

"Getting ready for 2012," says the sign on the hoarding around the centre of Leicester Square. There's no mention of the Olympics, which start in London in July next year, but there's the obvious implication that that's why the work is in progress. It feels as if the city is in a state of limbo in the run-up to its opening: scaffolding abounds well away from the Olympic park in east London. Quite what needs to be done to the small park of benches, and statues of the likes of Shakespeare, Chaplin and Newton to make the square suitable for spectators of synchronised swimming, beach volleyball and archery isn't obvious. But if as much attention is lavished on it as a painter is lovingly giving to putting the final touches to the black screens erected around the square, it will be worth the wait.