Interview: Renzo Piano on ‘the Shard’

Originally named ‘the London bridge tower’, but now commonly referred to as ‘the Shard’ by Italian architect Renzo Piano has been completed since the summer of 2012 and officially opened to the public on February 1, 2013.

It is currently considered the tallest building in western Europe, with all the climatic implications, challenges and consequences that fact entails. The needle-point structure stands 309.6 meters above the south bank district and is home to a number of programs including office space, restaurants, 5-star shangri-la hotel and residences. At the highest public level, 244m above ground – accessed by elevators travelling approximately 6 meters per second – one will experience the structural pieces of the glass that form the top of ‘the shard’ and disappear into the sky. a centerpiece to the 2 million square meter development, the 72-story mixed-use tower was inaugurated with a nighttime light show, which combined 12 lasers and 30 searchlights to celebrate the skyline’s newest addition.


Architects such as Renzo Piano are continuously pushing the boundaries, inching their way further up into the skyline, reaching larger spans and surfaces. It is a great challenge to create these types buildings in structural and climatic aspects. Is Piano’s design up to par?

BBC journalist Sarah Montague speaks to the designer of one of London’s newest and most controversial buildings. This BBC’s ‘hardtalk’ focuses on Renzo Piano’s latest creation – which is already loved, and also loathed – as he explains some of the overarching ideas behind ‘the Shard’ and its implications.

Critic Owen Hatherly says ‘its a monument to wealth and power run way out of control, a flashing warning sign of disease’
I think there are different things. On this one there is some distortion. When you go through this building you realize that what is open is the viewing platform that will be visited by three, four, five thousand people a day, and the office will be used by something like 5,000 people a day; they are not rich people, those people, they are normal people.

It’s quite interesting when you talk about vertical cities. In a way, that was a fashion at a certain time for streets in the sky, now there’s a move away from highrises, because people don’t want to live on top of each other, that actually you can get more density and a more efficient and better living space with old fashioned terraces.
Yes, but this is wrong, I’m sorry, I think it’s totally wrong. Today, the 21st century discovery, the most important one, is the fragility of earth, and we know now we have to be sustainable. The most unsustainable thing you can think about is the periphery: the immense sprawl of nice beautiful little cottages and little houses. Forget it. It’s impossible, it’s cost-wise impossible, it’s not sustainable in any sense, just a romantic idea.

So, in energy terms a glass building like this is better?
Oh no, the energy you spend in this building is 10 x less than what you spend in a little village that’s for sure. A building like this, especially this building with the system we used to keep the radiation out is incredibly efficient. You’re right that the crystalinity of the building comes from that.

So even if you’re tackling the problem of the banlieue, the Paris suburbs, you would suggest that you build these high-rises, you create cities in the peripheries?
No I’m not saying so. No, I just suggested that the solution for cities is not to make a new periphery; and you know a city grown today is not solved by making a new periphery and creating new tragedy.

The solution is not expansion by explosion, the solution is expansion by implosion. That is the opposite. It’s actually the only sustainable growth in the city, especially in a city like London, is to grow from inside. Building on what we call ‘brownfield’. I’ve built in my life, always, on brownfield. In Berlin I built on brownfield, it was the little space left between east and west Berlin for 45 years. But you know, in cities you have always the possibilities to grow. It doesn’t mean that I preach the value of making tall buildings everywhere, I’m just saying that from time to time in very few cases with miracles like this one, it makes sense to go up and to show that energy.