So I went up the shard last week with some sneaky preview tickets.
There was talk of snow, and I was bracing myself for a fantastic view of a great white nothing. But in fact the view turned out to be pretty bloody marvelous, with a clear yet moody sky, as you can gather from my amateur photography skills. My companion rather hilariously informed me on our way there that the 6 metre per second lift that I’d read about was “not working yet”, and so I was bracing myself for a 72-floor hike that would take us “probably about half an hour”. So all things considered, no snow and no hike, things were going better than expected so far.
Surreally, the first few minutes inside the building felt first like an airport (excessive scanners), and then the welcoming reception to an adult Disneyland, with sentimentally rousing music and a photo-op in front of a green screen that, you guessed it, became a backdrop of the View from the Shard for you to purchase in the lobby afterwards like a souvenir from a log-flume (minus the screaming faces- unless you were really excited).
We were escorted round a few nondescript hallways, some with video sequences of fun facts and views of London etc (I’ll be honest, I was far to busy wanting to get to the top that I didn’t pay much attention to anything else), and ushered away from enticing doorways (one of which had had so many nosy so-and-so’s poking there noses in it they’d had to wedge a long wooden plank through the door-handles: classy).
Definite ear-popping in the lift on the way up- a sign we’re getting high. Whizzed up through what will be twenty-eight floors of offices, three floors of restaurants, eighteen floors of Shangri-La Hotel, and ten apartments (each expected to fetch between £30m and £50m). And then, up some stairs and: BOOM.
Through one of 11,000 panes of glass (and, on a side note, these are not just single panes of glass: there’s single glazing on the outside, double-glazing on the inside, and a thin retractable blind in-between) I could see miles (40 to be exact) of houses and borrowers and skyscrapers and all the other things crammed into this really rather over-crowded looking city, come to mention it. Old Renzo was right when he emphasised that the main reason the Shard was sustainable was that it went upwards and not outwards: I couldn’t see anywhere for it to fit if it wasn’t so skinny.
There are some rather good telescopes that aren’t really like telescopes at all, more like big swivelly point-and-shoot computers. But I was more enamoured with the real deal beyond the glass: if I want to see bits of London up close I can just go stand in it, but it ain’t so often you get to see it all in one massive sprawling, living landscape. And of course there’s the open-air, 72nd floor; the bit you want to point at afterwards and say “I was up there.” Feeling the chill of 804ft-high sky lends a blast of reality that makes the whole experience freshly exciting all over again.
I won’t comment on the price-tag, despite that being most people’s first question: “So, would you pay…?”. I do know that everyone on that deck barely noticed each other as they took their positions at a pane of glass for the fifth time that morning, entirely engrossed in a city that is so familiar but rendered completely anew from a new, calmer perspective.
And if a sentimental, transcendental moment with your beloved city isn’t enough to tempt you, there’s always that infamous loo…
Photographs © Laura Nicolson