The United Kingdom’s tallest landmark, The Shard, also known as the Shard of Glass, London Bridge Tower, and The Shard London Bridge, is located in Southwark, London. These 95 storeyed skyscrapers were designed and visualized by Pritzker winning architect Renzo Piano and stand tall at 309.6 m with 72 habitable floors, making it the 6th tallest building in Europe. The Shard is a mixed-use tower housing the HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) in its lower floors, 26 floors of an office complex, multiple restaurants, 18 floors for The Shangri-LaHotel, and multiple luxury apartments on the higher floors, providing scenic views to the tenants that occupy it. Floors 68 to 72 that were initially planned to be radiators were eventually converted into viewing galleries. Built to cater to London’s growing population and their needs, the Shard was conceptualized with the intention of creating a “Vertical City”. On the request of London based Entrepreneur, Irvine Sellar of the Sellar Properties, it was decided that the existing Southwark Towers would be demolished to accommodate this new vision. Due to complications with funding, the shard is now jointly owned by The Sellar properties and The State of Qatar and is maintained by UK’s Real Estate Management Limited on the behest of its owners.

The Shard by Renzo Piano- Inspiring Change
Image Sources: London skyline ©
The Shard by Renzo Piano- Inspiring Change-Renzo Piano
Image Sources: Renzo Piano ©Interview Magazine
The Shard by Renzo Piano -Inspiring Change - The Shard Sketch
The Shard Sketch. ©

Design Development

Irvine Sellar’s desire to create a Vertical city right next to London’s busiest transport Hub, The London Bridge station, was brought to life when Piano sketched a spire-like structure that would look like it emerged from the adjacent Thames River. He was also inspired by the London spires depicted by the 18th-century painter, Canaletto, masts of a sailing ship, and its proximity to the railway lines. The shape was conceived when Piano estimated the floor space required for the different users that would occupy the building on its completion. The building tapered as it rose, with the maximum floor space provided for the offices located on its lower floors and the least required for the apartments placed on the higher floors, hence giving it a shard-like form. The name was popularised when the building’s form was criticized by The English Heritage society as they considered that the structure would symbolize a splinter piercing through the heart of London.

The design was eventually approved in the year 2000 and construction began in March 2009 after the demolition of Southwark Tower. After multiple hindrances with respect to finances and approval from various Heritage bodies, The Shard was finally completed in March 2012 and inaugurated on 5th July 2012 by the Prime Minister of Qatar.

Piano was clear about his dislike of conventional skyscrapers and was adamant that unlike the arrogant tall buildings that dominated its surroundings, The Shard’s character would be sharp yet gentle. It would not be a timid structure, but one that exudes intensity through its presence. He believed that its location next to a transportation hub was ideal as the building would not cast a shadow on its surroundings and would encourage the citizens to use public transport hence reducing the city traffic. This objective was further enforced as the building provided only 48 spaces for parking.

The Shard by Renzo Piano -Inspiring Change-Shard Construction Phases -1
Shard Construction phase 2 ©
The Shard by Renzo Piano -Inspiring Change-Shard Construction Phases -2
Shard Construction phase 2 ©
The Shard by Renzo Piano -Inspiring Change-Shard Construction Phases -3
Shard Construction phase 2 ©
The Shard by Renzo Piano -Inspiring Change-Shard Construction Phases -4
The Shard is meant to resemble a glass sculpture rising from the River Thames ©

Conscious Construction

The assembly technique followed for this structure is called “The Top-down Construction”. This approach allowed the construction of the core of its first 23 floors and its surroundings before fully excavating the 3 basements that would sit on a Raft Foundation. This saved 4 months of the building construction timeline. The core consisted of 44 elevators, emergency staircases, and other services which were convenient not only because it separated usable and unusable space, but also allowed for repairs without hindering the functions of the building whenever required.

The tower consisted of 3 separate types of materials used for its structural stability. A steel frame structure was used for the first 40 floors of the building, a post-tension concrete frame for the next 32 floors, and a steel spire that reached up to the 95th floor to complete its height. This method of construction allowed for shallower floor depths and the possibility of adding 2 extra floors to its total height. The 500-tonne metal spire was 66 m long and was prefabricated and pre-assembled to avoid the risks of working at such a great height.

Shard was one of the earliest structures in the UK to be planned as per the publication of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which meant it was designed to withstand arduous conditions and had a sway tolerance of 400 millimeters due to its shape and construction techniques.

Another factor kept in mind by the architect during the construction of this massive tower was environmental sustainability. Being a mixed-use structure, Piano decided that excessive production of heat from the office floors would be reused on the residential floors. The 56,000 sq.m. glass facade consisted of 8 asymmetrically placed shards of glass that do not meet, hence allowing the sunlight to enter the building from different angles at different times of the day. The double glass technology used for this structure cut the heat gain by the installation of Lamellas (Venetian blinds) between the 2 glass panes. Piano considered the blinds to be more efficient than tinted glass, as it could be rolled up at times when there was no sunlight. There would even be areas that did not have these blinds due to the direction it faced and the sunlight it received. Piano decided to use low iron clear glass instead of mirrored or tinted glass panes, giving the tower a crystal-like illusion that changed at different times of the day depending on the sunlight it received.

An Architectural Marvel

Renzo Piano’s Shard has now become the symbol of modern technology, a structure that the Londoners have come to respect and admire. It remains to be London’s tallest structure to date and a major tourist hub since its public opening in February 2013, providing a 360-degree view of the city and attracting more than half a million tourists every year.


Meghna Madanmohan, an Architect by profession, Anxious by nature and an Aspiring Author by choice. She believes that empathy is the true path to being a successful Human and Architect. Her quest to seek answers continues now from one design to the next article.