The Shard: height and interesting facts about London’s skyscraper

The Shard is unmistakable: this is how London’s pyramidal skyscraper came about

The Shard in London is Europe’s 7th tallest skyscraper. Excluding the gigantic Russian skyscrapers, such as the Lakhta Center in Saint Petersburg with a height of 1,516 feet, no other building soars higher in the United Kingdom than “The Shard“, which is located in Southwark, south of the Thames.

With its unique slender pyramid shape, the height of The Shard is 1004 feet, far exceeding London’s previous tallest skyscraper, One Canada Square, also known as Canary Wharf Tower, 774 feet tall including its pyramid roof. The construction of The Shard was completed in 2013 and, since then, the skyscraper has continued to intrigue architects and not just them: as Europe’s 7th tallest skyscraper, the building has attracted attention from many quarters, such as the Greenpeace activities who scaled the building in 2013 to protest against drilling in the Arctic.

Southwark before The Shard skyscraper

The Shard stands at 32, London Bridge Street in the district of Southwark. The entrepreneur Irvine Sellar supported the construction of this extremely high pyramid, driven by the iron determination to renew that area of London marred, in his view, by obsolete constructions that were holding back the city’s development.

As early as 2000, Sellar contacted the Italian starchitect Renzo Piano to design a skyscraper that would be built on the site where Southwark Towers stood, which rose to a height of 328 feet. From the first meeting with Sellar, Renzo Piano displayed a desire to move away from the classic skyscraper, suggesting the possibility of building a “sail” that would rise up along the banks of the Thames. It was therefore immediately clear that The Shard was not going to be a normal building, so it is no surprise that John Prescott, then Deputy Prime Minister, ordered an inquiry to sound out the opinions of residents about the construction of a skyscraper with such peculiar features.

The construction of The Shard

As stated, The Shard was designed by Renzo Piano. More specifically, the design was the result of the work of the RPBW Architects studio, under the direction of the Genoese architect.

Work began with a geological analysis of the terrain, which confirmed the stability of the ground but also discovered problems connected to the proximity of two underground railway lines, as well as the river Thames, of course. The works began in earnest with the demolition of the previous towers, without resorting to the use of explosives, given the proximity of other buildings.

The slow, careful process of demolishing Southwark Towers was completed in 2009, making it possible to move on to the preparation of the new construction site. The first step was to erect a retaining wall between the site and the Thames to ensure the ground would always remain dry during the excavations and while laying the foundations. The building of the skyscraper began in 2009, although it was delayed by breaks of a few weeks. By the end of November 2010, The Shard had reached a height of 771 feet, surpassing One Canada Square. The building was completed in 2012 and was inaugurated on 5 July 2012, opening to the public in February 2013.

The specifications of The Shard

Mention has already been made of the size of Renzo Piano’s The Shard: its name refers to the particular shape of the top of the building, similar to a shard of glass. It has 95 floors, of which 72 are actually habitable. This colossus rests on foundations made up of 120 drilled piles, each one with a diameter of around 4 feet. In order to ensure the building’s stability, these piles go down to a depth of 177 feet. Above this, at a depth of 52 feet, there is a foundation mat with a height of 13 feet.

Given its great thickness, this mat was filled with what is recorded as the longest concrete casting in the United Kingdom, lasting 36 hours and using around 700 concrete mixer trucks. This sizeable mat is the base on which the building’s 95 storeys rest, with a total area of 1,372,280 square feet distributed over floors that gradually become smaller towards the top.

It has a peculiar pyramid shape with a cross-section that looks octagonal on first glance but is actually an irregular shape with grooves and indentations. The building’s sides are inclined at an angle of 12 degrees and are covered with 11,000 glass panels, which together create a reflective surface of 602,779 square feet.

Glass is one of the materials that are used repeatedly in Renzo Piano’s projects: in the case of The Shard, clear glass was selected with a low level of iron oxide in order to reduce the effects of the sun’s heat to a minimum. It should be emphasised that the elevations are, in any event, double-glazed with a gap for sunshades to regulate the brightness inside the building.

The interiors of The Shard

This very high, bright pyramid soaring into the sky over London is decidedly multifunctional: inside there are commercial areas, offices, a hotel, private residences, restaurants, bars and a private clinic.

The pyramidal shape perfectly accommodates these different uses, with the lower floors dedicated to commercial areas and offices. Bars and restaurants occupy the 31st to the 33rd floors while, from the 34th to the 52nd floors, there is a hotel and spa.

From the 53rd floor, as the cross-section narrows, there are luxurious private residences and, from the 68th storey, the panoramic floors. The skyscraper is partially open from the 72nd floor. This is the location of the famous spire, where a hydraulic arm maintains the tension of the steel tie rods, essential for the balance of the inclined sides.