Sunday 24 June 2012

The Shard from

I’ve always been in two minds when it comes to London and the buildings that now inhabit it. While being a fine display of Victorian, Edwardian and Tudor architecture, London has hit, in my opinion, somewhat of a speed bump in recent years. Giant glass and concrete eyesores have been sprouting up all over the capital, each seemingly inspired by fruit, vegetables and items that have likely melted in the sun.
I should probably state this now, I don’t understand modern art in the slightest. The last time I visited a gallery, I saw the works of Tracy Emin, glanced at the price tag, laughed and left. Seriously, this is who the current generation classes as an “artist”? Con-artist perhaps, no doubt she was laughing all the way to the bank upon discovering how many had purchased her latest and greatest, a piece which basically amounted to two coloured lines on an over-sized canvas.
I’m a simple person, I like to take things at face value. If something looks like it took time and effort, clearly showing off the passion and talent of the artist that created it, then I can respect and enjoy it. However, something a child could happily draw in ten seconds carrying a price tag of over £300,000, just doesn’t make sense to me. No doubt this subtle hatred comes down to jealousy. I, like many of you, have yet to develop the ability to sell a blank canvas you accidentally spilt something on for more than £1. One day perhaps?
Now before I start receiving hate mail, dead animals wearing sunglasses and creatively shaped turds through my letter box, the above is just an opinion. I’ve been known to be ignorant of other’s before, so don’t take it too seriously. Secondly, and more to the point, I am in no way calling architects lazy, I cannot stress that enough. Even I, who has absolutely no experience in the field, knows the amount of work it takes just to design something that won’t fall over. The point I was trying to make is that due to my own reasons, I may sometimes not see the beauty in design as others do.
The Shard of Glass, also known as the “Vertical City” is one such building that I don’t quite understand. Standing at a monstrous 310 meters tall, over 1000 feet, it now dwarfs the London Bridge Quarter, leaving the previous dominator, Guys Hospital, in its shadow. Unsurprisingly, as its name suggests, it is designed to resemble a Shard of Glass, one that would give even the Python foot a nasty cut.
The Shard is certainly an impressive sight, a visible landmark on the skyline for miles, but it just looks, wrong. Now, I’m possibly being slightly unfair as the project is still incomplete, portions of the core are exposed, the majority of floors empty with the spire yet to be constructed. At certain points of the day, when the sun is positioned correctly reflecting off the glass so that you can’t see these things, yeah, it looks good. An indicator of its future completed state.
Ever since its predecessor, the Southwark Tower came down in 2008, explorers have been patiently waiting, watching the foundations and core slowly materialise. We had one unwritten rule, wait until the core reached 72 stories, the final inhabitable floor before the radiator levels. This was for one simple reason, for explorers, the Shard was poorly positioned. It sat uncomfortably close to one of London’s busiest railway stations, only two of its sides were exposed and those were surrounded by a 15ft high fence covered in cameras. This meant without considerable climbing skills and luck, there was only one way in and out. We had one shot, if someone was caught, there was a high chance we would never get in again, so why take that chance early?
Several months passed, the slow progress pushing the Shard to the back of the mind. Then one morning, I opened the paper to see a story celebrating the topping out of the core, the time had come. It seemed I wasn’t the only to one to read the article, as we sat beside the tower, waiting for an opportunity, more and more people showed up. Pretty soon we had a large contingent of explorers, all with their sights set on the tower.
By this point we had far too many to attempt any form of stealth, we just had to go for it and hope strength in numbers prevented any serious ramifications from being caught. One by one we entered the site, heading straight to the core and beginning the ascent. The task ahead was daunting, I struggle climbing 30 floor buildings, but over 72 with an additional crane? The mind was willing, but the body weak.
In the end our entrance was surprisingly subtle. With the lack of an audible response, we assumed we had gotten in clean, undetected by the patrolling security guards until we reached the 23rd level. “Oi, stop!”, a voice echoed in the stairwell. Instinctively we hit the deck, slowly turning our heads to see who had caught us. No-one? Again we heard the voice, “Who are you?!”. The confrontation was happening two floors below, one of the stragglers had the misfortune and bad timing of bumping into a worker on his way back down. The worker was unaware of the larger group above his head, proving security hadn’t been alerted to our presence, his focus primarily set on taking the captured explorer down to security. We couldn’t help him now, he had taken one for the team and descended without incident or revealing us. With a silent thank you, we continued.
Almost half an hour and several hundred sweat inducing feet later, we reached the summit, a panoramic, unspoilt view of the city our reward. The wind howled, the crane upon which we stood creaked and swayed, London stretching as far as the eye could see. We were high, extremely high. Actually, we were too high. While the initial view was breathtaking, and believe me it was, once the adrenaline and satisfaction of what had been accomplished subsided, we slowly discovered that this view was for the most part, a photographic nightmare. Now I know, looking at the amount of pictures myself and many others have posted, you might consider what I’m saying as slightly ridiculous. Its difficult to explain, I tried to put my view into word, but nothing I wrote was able to convey it. Its something you will have to experience for yourself in a few months time when the first tours arrive on the observation deck.
I’m nitpicking here as this was a minor drawback, one which in the grand scheme of things didn’t take much away from the overall experience. It was just one I didn’t expect. At the end of the day, we explore these sites primarily for the experience, any documentation and photographic reward is just the icing on the cake. That night we had our cake, more than we could finish in one sitting, it was just slightly less sugary than we expected!