You may be making a rather brilliant political point in scaling the 309.6 metres of The Shard from the outside, but I preferred my own towering observation of London to take place internally. Seventy-two storeys above London Bridge, and LOOK! I can see my house from here. No surprises that you can also see The Shard from my house.
As is the case with the VNEB development, The Shard was built right under my nose almost unnoticed. It crept up the from behind London Bridge at a steady, constant pace. Level by level, you soon became accustomed to this phallic totem being erected right in the centre of town.
It would be tempting to say that The Shard is last great hurrah of visual, vanity architecture that attempts to define affluent London. It may be a city of economic extremes, but the bubble will seemingly never burst on big towers. A southwest view over to Vauxhall confirms this constant need to reach for the skies.
London Bridge isn’t really my London. It’s my cycle route of choice on CS7 from south to the City, but I never really linger around this part of town. There’s a charming Peruvian restaurant at the back of the old / new station of which I’m an occasional customer. The McDonald’s at the back of Guy’s will always hold personal significance as the scene where I first agreed to take a Brixton flat some eighteen summers past.
But London Bridge has always been a place to pass through, south to north, and then hopefully back again before any roots are set up on the wrong side of the river. All of this has now changed with The Shard. The fabled centre of town has shifted slightly east along the old river, drawn in by the magnetism of London’s latest tourist attraction. Just wait until VNEB forces a Transpontine shift in the topological plates of space and location…
I remember little of what existed at the back of London Bridge in the days before The Shard. A Way We See It photo shoot took place there during the very early days of the project. It was a wise choice, with careful consideration put into a destination that would soon change forever.
The WWSI site has long since died a death, and with it the shared photography of what went before. I seem to recall some arches, a dodgy lock up and not much else. My own images are sitting on a CDR somewhere in the loft – an archival project that forever seems to be escaping well-placed intentions to curate.
A return to the back of London Bridge for the Walt Disney style experience of The View from the Shard was eagerly anticipated. With no connections and little memory of the area, there was a sense of being a tourist in a foreign city. The irony of course is that I would soon be surveying and *swooning* over a city that holds incredibly personal and close connections.
Top tip for any Shard ascenders: leaves the braces at home. My clip ons triggered a minor security panic I passed through the airport style security. You can understand the paranoia around the endless checks before you are allowed the freedom to look over the city. The staff are cheerful and reassuring, once again reminding you of the airport experience and the flight attendants.
Blown up photographs line the wall of the first entrance to the lift. The Lido featured heavily at ground level. Sadly it was to be hidden away behind the Barrier Block some 72-storeys later at the top of The Shard.
Two lifts are required to take you to the top. You get to change floors on the 33rd level, then riding at 15mph all the way up to floor 68. An illuminated ceiling gives a Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator experience. My ears popped mid-way on the ascent.
The choice of a balmy mid-summer day for booking two tickets up The Shard was deliberate. With views stretching back forty miles on a clear day, you are pretty much at the mercy of the Weather Gods when spunking out £25 a pop for the experience.
We over-cooked it slightly. The South London mugginess meant a close atmosphere that allowed for views only as far south as Crystal Palace. Some say that the world ends in SE19 anyway. I didn’t bother looking out and logging how far north I could see. Hampstead Heath swallowed up the landscape.
Nothing to see here.
North and South landmarks aside, the defining feature is of course the Old Father. The “silver artery of the Empire” was more spunk green [eww] – an energetic release of all the excesses of city living, gushing out a continuous celebration of London life and trickling down the belly button of Bermondsey.
The curve of the Thames can only be appreciated from up above. It is the connecting fault line that links up London and makes it such an inclusive city – in topological terms anyway.
Once you oozed at the initial overview of the river, the remainder of your Shard experience is spent picking out personal London landmarks and memories. It is a wasted opportunity for tourists who continually asked where they could see Buckingham Palace.
Balls to the House of Brenda.
Look! There’s Somewhere in SE17!
There are far too many reference points in which to pick out. The trick is to isolate your own personal London trajectories, and then follow the lines that lead to your familiar destinations.
My own preferred cycle routes across all four corners of the city were closely observed. Kennington Park Road is transformed from a CS7 lane jumping game of chance to become a beautiful green boulevard.
The status of Southwark Bridge as the forgotten river crossing is confirmed. It is almost apologetic, hidden away and a streaky structure of piss to navigate the spunk green spew of the Thames. Crossing at Southwark is to be avoided.
The belief that the new Blackfriars will join up the infrastructure dots can be justified from the viewing platform vantage point. Connecting Farringdon and Southwark isn’t viewed as a central London location. The Shard overview challenges this misconception.
The Millennium Bridge takes on the form of a Mechano structure.
Out east and the Tower of London is made out of Lego. The magnificence of Monument is reduced to a matchstick – playing with fire, etc. The West End appears insignificant, hidden away and overshadowed by Hyde Park. What is striking is the lack of towering structures when you reach the West End, Centre Point aside.
Hidden – and exclusive – roof gardens appear out of nowhere. This is perhaps the best indicator for the wealth of a particular patch. There was little roof garden activity out towards the Heygate, but instead a green glory highlighting how a community had been built within an urban forest.
Stockwell Bus Garage glints a… shard of light all the way down South Lambeth Road. Follow the personal cycle route out towards Crystal Palace and you can see how the great Col du South London is reduced to a mini-mound.
Your time is unlimited as you move between the indoor viewing gallery and the open-air platform two floors above. An hour should be sufficient to take in and retrace your own London landmarks.
There is a sense that you are looking down and observing the actors that are making London happen down below. You construct your own stories and give a narrative to their everyday actions that you are privy to.
At ground level and London can be very one-dimensional. From high above and suddenly it all makes sense. Ahh – so that’s why the E & C roundabout it seen as such a strategic commercial stronghold.
London isn’t a city – it is a thing. A less than whole incomplete thing. But a beautiful thing all the same.
It’s incredible, isn’t it?
The city, not the skyscraper.
DO look down.