Solving Cities

London's first true skyscraper, tallest in Western Europe

London's first true skyscraper, tallest in Western Europe

Posting in Architecture

London is nearing completion on it's first genuine skyscraper. But not everyone sees it as a good thing.

London is nearing completion on its new skyscraper, The Shard. At 1,017 feet and 72 floors, it dwarfs the surrounding skyline. Already, in its incomplete state, it's the city's tallest skyscraper in London and in Western Europe.

But it's not all excitement about the city's first "genuine" skyscraper. Ulrike Knöfel, writing for Spiegel, laments that the tower will change London forever, and not in a good way:

The building is certainly no beauty, and its silhouette seems confident, almost arrogant. Even its name sounds aggressive: the Shard.

London already boasts a few tall buildings, the most famous being Lord Norman Foster's so-called "Gherkin," a 180-meter-tall (590-foot-tall) building primarily housing offices of the global reinsurance company Swiss Re that got its nickname from its elliptical form. But even the Gherkin looks like a Lego toy when compared to the Shard. Indeed, the Shard -- essentially London's first genuine skyscraper, has broken a taboo. It's the first building to alter the city's character, one that shrinks the old Roman city of London down to a picturesque stage set.

And some argue that built-to-impress giant skyscrapers, like The Shard, are a thing of the past.

Architecture critics such as Andres Lepik say skyscrapers built solely for the sake of height are completely outdated dinosaurs. People used to marvel at them the way they do when the see a flashy car on the street. But cities grow, and if they don't want to continually expand into the surrounding countryside, they're forced to expand upward instead. But, all too often, these tall buildings look almost completely out of place owing to their location, their size and even their appearance.

In a city steeped in tradition and history, it's no surprise to hear critics about London's skyline-altering new tower. But where do you draw the line between historic preservation and progress? Would any new tall tower in London be able to avoid criticism? Doubtful.

What do our London readers think of the new tower?

Photo: Christopherblack30/Wikimedia Commons

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure