I love the Shard.
Yes, the opening ceremony last night was more than a bit underwhelming – resembling nothing more than an 8-year-old Sauron playing with a laser pen – but the building itself is magnificent.
Just look at it. This is arguably the most ambitious and radical building London has put up since Parliament was rebuilt in the 19th century. It is bold, sleek and a remarkable technical achievement all in one building.
As well as its external appearance, there is the mind-boggling scale of the experience it offers those inside. It is so tall that it will provide London’s first ever sea view. That’s remarkable, an achievement which reconnects us with the unlimited engineering dreams of the Victorians.
The Shard is also a confirmation of our welcome return to sane modernity. The 1960s and 1970s saw architecture kidnapped, locked in an abandoned warehouse and ritually tortured by a clique who were convinced that being modern meant knocking down beautiful historic buildings and replacing them with ugly, brooding concrete boxes. The Shard is a stake through the heart of architectural nosferatu like Euston station.
There will always be criticism – happily, we live in a populous and opinionated society, where all have access to digital loudhailers, so that is inevitable. Tastes differ, but there is genuine absurdity in the cult which seems to have developed around the design of St Paul’s cathedral.
For some, it seems, no large building is acceptable in London unless it is St Paul’s, or a carbon copy thereof.
The Guardian glowered that it can be seen “towering over St Paul’s” in a picture that implied they are next door to each other, rather on different sides of the Thames.
The Telegraph’s normally excellent Ed West similarly objected that from Parliament Hill, the Shard can be seen “dwarfing St Paul’s”.
It is as though some imagine St Paul’s as a great, stone censor, Mary Whitehouse carved in Portland stone, tut-tutting about anything that might offend her stately sensibilities.
This is wrong-headed: St Paul’s itself was, in its day, a radical departure from the norm. Nothing of its sort had ever been built in England before, and it shocked and repulsed many contemporary observers. In that sense, the Shard is a descendant of St Paul’s, not its usurper.
Wren himself had to battle for years to be able to go ahead with his revolutionary new building, fighting against those who said the new cathedral should be exactly the same as the buildings that had gone before. Thank goodness that he stuck with it and prevailed – and thank goodness those building the Shard did the same 300 years later.
On the day that France bans the burqa – thus becoming a state so draconian as to dictate what people can and cannot wear – it seems appropriate to repost one my earliest pieces on this site, weighing up whether a ban in Britain would be right.
It’s a tricky topic – often leading people who oppose a ban to falsely pretend they are entirely comfortable with an institution which in truth few people really are comfortable with. Britain’s position is all the more important now that proponents of the French ban are pointing across the Channel to warn that without it France could become like the UK.
So here’s the post. Let me know your thoughts.