I’ll come right out and say it. I hate the Shard. To my eyes, it’s a bloated, indulgent, overrated moment of madness preserved in glass and steel. It truly is a shard. Coldly driven deep into the heart of London’s architectural splendour. It’s an eyesore, a Freudian embarrassment, a worrying signal of what is happening to the city I’ve lived in for eight years. And it’s not alone.
The Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie, the Pringle. The names alone read like monikers given to failed London gangsters from the fifties. In a city which is home to St Pauls, the Tower of London and, of course, the Houses of Parliament, how could these cheap, plastic parodies come to be?
Because, despite their grotesque sizes and shapes, they are able to hide behind a veneer of progression. A twisted logic that suggests that, however monstrous it may be, something new is always positive. After all, it’s the future and we should never stand in the way of it.
I’ll come right out and say it. I hate the Shard.
This perception of time is almost as flawed as the designs it encourages. Almost. Unlike the Shard, the future is flexible, mouldable. We can shape tomorrow’s world provided we are dedicated in spirit and delicate in touch. Which is why the indelicacy displayed by these buildings is such an affront to the city. Our city.
And this is the greatest sin committed by skyscrapers. They are created with an aerial view solely in mind. Like a bad portrait, they can appear flattering from a distance but are exposed when seen in close proximity. With no regard for the man on the street or the surrounding buildings they cast into shadow. They are construction’s playground bullies, exacting unjustified vengeance on those around them to compensate for their own inadequacy. Perhaps the mobster monikers are well deserved.
They also depict a shift in our mentality. We used to value heritage and take comfort in monuments from the past. They denoted where we came from and guided us on the path forward. Now we see preservation as stagnation and lunacy as ‘forward thinking’. We have become a people that would sooner spend money on missiles than healthcare. We’d rather be the first to harm than to heal. The Shard did not bring about this mindset but it embodies it.
There’s a good reason why architectural missteps rancour more than errors in other art forms. Visiting an art gallery is a choice, attending the theatre is a preference. We make no such selection when it comes to our skylines. Architecture is our existence. We live with it and, over time, it defines us. A London defined by the Shard and its fellow behemoths will be a city without care and consideration, faith and familiarity.
At three o’clock in the morning on January 1st 2017 I was sat on a bench overlooking the Thames. Twinkling garishly like an oligarch’s oversized Christmas tree, the Shard was as monumental and miserable as ever. Like the drunk, obnoxious uncle at the New Year’s Eve party, it was impossible to overlook. After a while, I stopped trying and left for the nearest tube station. If more buildings of this kind are imposed on the city, I may have to do the same with London.