earlier this week i was delighted to attend a special preview viewing of london’s latest landmark building, the shard, which opens to the public next friday 1st february (which happens to be my 30th birthday, eeek!)
standing tall at a dizzying height of 1,016ft (310m) the building has already become a dramatic focal point in london’s ever-evolving skyline, and having spent the past few years watching it transform in front of my eyes (and often getting caught up in all the construction chaos at london bridge rail station), i was eager to get inside and find out what all the fuss has been about.
located in the historic london bridge quarter in the heart of london, the shard sits centrally between the west end, westminster, south bank, the city and canary wharf. the name ‘shard’ comes from its sculpted design, which consists of glass facets that incline inwards but do not meet at the top, but instead open to the sky to allow the building to breathe naturally. london’s historic church spires and masts of ships which once anchored along the river inspired the elegant building’s design, and once inside the influence of the thames and the city’s rich cultural history are apparent in the ground floor galleries, which include animated maps, displays and video screens showing glimpses into london’s diverse communities, famous streets and iconic locations from across the capital.
stepping into one of the four ‘kaleidoscopic’ lifts that service the viewing galleries, you are spirited upwards at a speed of 6m/second (whooosh!), transferring lifts at level 33. following a graffitied map of the thames that curves along the floor, mapping the capital geographically in 200 phrases, you arrive at the ‘cloudscape’ on level 68 before ascending to the triple-height, light-filled, main viewing gallery at level 69, where the stunning 360 degree views for up to 40 miles (64km) across the capital are revealed for the first time.
looking down at the rich tapestry of my hometown laid out below was something akin to a religious experience for me, for london is part of my heart and soul, the very fabric upon which my life is embroidered. i’ve lived in this city my entire life and still i am consistently amazed and awed by it, so viewing its extensive urban sprawl from a unique aerial vantage point was truly breathtaking. sure, visibility may have been hampered somewhat by the low hanging grey cloud that has enveloped the city for much of the week, but the sight of london rooftops glinting with remnants of fluffy white snow as far as the eye could see was truly sensational. i can only imagine what the view will be like on a clear summer’s day, when you can see all the way to the olympic park and the thames barrier in the east, wembley stadium and alexandra palace to the north.
the city is brought to life through 12 free to use ‘tell:scopes’ which enable guests to explore the city around them in real time, as well as offering pre-recorded day and night-time views that are fully interactive, identifying over 200 famous landmarks and places of significant interest and offering information about them in 10 languages.
for an even more intense experience, i climbed higher to the viewing gallery on level 72, 800ft (244m) up in the heavens. the highest public level of the building, it is partially open-air and exposed to the elements, encompassing all of the sounds and atmosphere of the vibrant city below, surrounded by the giant shards of glass that form the top of the shard. it’s not something that can easily be put into words, the enormity of everything encapsulated in the sight of london from so high in the clouds, but it is certainly a spine-tingling experience.
ok, so it’s definitely not the cheapest day out ever, with adult tickets for the view costing £24.95 in advance and £29.95 on the day (limited availability), but on a glorious summer day that view is going to be very hard to beat, and quite frankly the immense sense of pride, passion and general awesome-ness that i felt gazing down upon my city is truly priceless.
london; my first love, my true love.
the view from the shard, open daily from 1st february 2013, 9am – 10pm
| all photographs © kate baxter |