The Shard “review”: amazing, but how high can you fly with broken wings?

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While it doesn’t open to the public officially until 1 February 2013, I recently visited the public viewing platforms at The Shard – that big spike of a building at London Bridge in Central London; currently the tallest building in Western Europe.

As I was visiting before it opens to the general public, there were some teething problems, so a warning: this isn’t a “kind” review, despite the views.  Let the pictures speak for themselves; I’m sure you’ll be tempted to go up at some point if you are in London regardless of the niggles and the price (I suggest you go to the website link and choke for your own amusement).  The architecture alone is a draw.

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I have watched this building grow for a long time and I will watch with interest how the area around it evolves.  It is a different approach to architecture and while I would have preferred it if the ‘shards’ met to create a point, it isn’t shy or retiring and is a monumental statement by its architects.  I know that I don’t often include modern architecture in my diaries – a recent visit up The Gherkin being an exception – but I am very passionate about how “modern” architecture in our villages, towns and cities evolves.

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If I had my way, a lot of our towns would be neoclassical, but I understand that at a certain point, functionality replaced beauty as a key ingredient in modern architecture and that the cost of the sort of adornment that Victorian industrial wealth facilitated is unlikely to be replicated.  Perhaps I happily include The Shard because it is a modern-day piece of Egyptomania?  A new form of obelisk for the 21st century.

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Don’t get me wrong, 2 Willow Road (1930s modernism) was a very interesting trip for me and I am determined to get to The Homewood sometime soon.  I don’t live in an 18th century building, and while I do my best to recreate that period inside, I appreciate the comforts of modern insulation (if not the material from which my windows are made).

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Views aside, which are of course amazing and far-reaching, I couldn’t help noticing a few integral mistakes in the design and functionality of “The Shard Experience”.

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Toilets: there are only four or five unisex toilets, all on the ground floor.  The floors are black slate so the floors were noticeably filthy looking, wet from dripping hands.  I visited after a man; the toilet seat up and the toilet unflushed.  Yuck.  There was only a throw away comment as we were about to go through the airport-style security that there would be no toilets at the top. However, there is a toilet at the top – I’ve seen it!

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Visibility: the window were dirty (there were window cleaners in action as I was there) – I’m not sure if this will be an ongoing theme – and certain parts were still cordoned off, including the very upper deck.

Security: the airport-style security station is very cramped, with just a small single table at the other side.    There are no seats to use when redressing yourself.  The space which should be used to allow visitors to regroup is used for two green screens where groups are ushered along to have their picture taken.  Hmmm.  Think this is going to hold things up.

Lifts: One needs to take one of two lifts to top.  There are only two lifts.  I wouldn’t want to be visiting if one of the lifts were broken.

The atmosphere: the walkways and waiting areas are all very black.  The roofs of the lifts are video screens, a nice touch.  The lifts are very fast – the first has just the buttons 1 & 33, the second 33, 34 & 68.

The photography experience: there are three viewing platforms – one enclosed and two partially open to the elements, but you won’t be able to get a picture without glass: although there is open sky above you as the shards narrow, there are high glass screens and only a couple of high gaps where me and a few others were stretching to take picture – I foresee a view dropped cameras so no doubt those gaps will soon be closed up.  The top floor was closed so I’d be interested to know if that has grills rather than glass screens.  I missed out on the very top floor: see here and here.

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The staff: some of the staff also already had a bad attitude – one was loudly announcing that she was 30 minutes late going got lunch but would be (regardless) taking her full hour.  She went on to tell the colleague she was meant to be relieving in 30 minutes’ time for her lunch that she would just have to wait.  Having worked in similar places I know this kind of behaviour won’t go down well.  Sometimes the few spoil it for the many.  Many of the staff were very enthusiastic but I noticed the same lift attendant on the way up and down: my trials and tribulations have taught me that circulation of roles is the key to keeping staff in this type of venue happy in the job – 30 minutes per post maximum and then a move around.  Maybe this had happened but I wonder…

The flooring: the flooring in the viewing areas is wood, already scratched and very dusty.  Wouldn’t have tiling been better up here?2012_01_27_0048 There were also too many stairs for me between the viewing decks. Although there is a lift option I didn’t want to seem lazy and took the stairs, but my knee was playing up.

The entrance: it isn’t via the main entrance, rather a ‘hole in the wall’ in the underbelly of the station, opposite McDonald’s and Starbucks.  Both I am sure will benefit from the hordes of visitors.   I’ll be intrigued to see how queuing is dealt with because at the top of the steep stairs at the entrance there is only room for about 50 people.  When we arrived there were about 60 people crowding outside the entrance and blocking the way, waiting for their timed entry slot to arrive (there is no internal queuing like at The Empire State Building or, even, Madame Tussaud’s at Baker Street in London).  Mmmmm.

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I may sound harsh but I couldn’t help comparing this experience to previous visits in New York to the Empire State Building and The Rockefeller Centre and Toronto at the CN Tower (all of which I now realise I’ve never included in my ‘lists of places visited’).  One day I’ll do a catch up and include them.  However, at none of these did I notice any of the niggles The Shard presented.

On the plus, time at the top was unlimited and there are zooming screens which facilitate a close up look of the sights and which label some of the main ones (although some currently contain errors – apparently both Shakespeare and Chaucer attended Southwark Cathedral in the 17th century!).

The solution? I’ll wait a couple of years until I have an out-of-town visitor and go back to see what has been ironed out.

When visited: January 2013

Website: http://www.theviewfromtheshard.com/ – and do book in advance (rumours are ‘on the day’ tickets will be £100, which is in fact what the cashier ‘practising’ on the day told me it would cost for a walk-in to go upstairs on the day I was there).

Theme tune: Amazing by Aerosmith

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