The towering glass spire of the Shard has been piercing the London skyline for a while now, splitting opinion every bit as aggressively as it splits the horizon from almost every vantage point in the city. To its detractors, its next target is probably the most frustrating of all: it is about to try to pierce a hole in your wallet.
It will cost £25 to journey the 314m to the viewing platforms of Europe’s tallest building when it opens to visitors in February. Tens of thousands of tickets have already been sold. So what can you expect from what the designers of “The View” hope will be the first port of call for millions of London’s annual tourists and its millions of residents too?
There can be no doubting the wow factor as you leave the lifts and climb the stairs on the 68th floor to the first of two viewing platforms. There are many vantage points over London – mainly in expensive bars and restaurants – but none this high, and none with 360-degree views.
It is a panorama that keeps no secrets. There are the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the glass offices of the City, both of which look pretty feeble from up here. The Tower of London is like a sandcastle in a quaint little garden.
But look east and south to where the Thames makes the fierce turn you don’t notice when you walk along it, and Lambeth’s notorious and almost empty Heygate Estate sits like a Pentagon for paupers, seemingly right next to the Palace of Westminster. That building appears like a honeycombed bit of tourist tat – a plastic Houses of Parliament stuck on a crowded mantelpiece. From up here, huge six-track-wide railway lines seem to split south London in half. The Shard’s critics claim to love London and its skyline – but they will love it up here.
There is a second platform on the 72nd floor where the building’s towering glass faces don’t quite come together. It will remain partially open to the elements, Mercifully, it wasn’t open yesterday, the coldest day in the capital for months.
Inevitably, the creators of The View from The Shard, as it will be known, see it as more than a viewing platform. Ticket holders will, predictably, exit through the gift shop. But the “attraction” elements appear to have been done with refreshing wit and invention.
“We want this to be first-stop London,” said Kevin Murphy, whose Event Communications company provided “story” and “concept”. “Nowhere in London can you learn about the real London. The Shard puts you there.”
According to William Matthews, the project architect behind the building: “You might think the West End is the centre of London. Historically it’s not: it’s London Bridge. We are recalibrating London.”
It may be that the Shard, which can accommodate just over a million visitors a year, will prove as famous as any-thing uttered by such famous residents of London as Shakespeare and Dickens, who are depicted in cartoons on the walls where visitors wait for the lifts to the 68th floor.