The smell of hot metal dust piques the nostrils and the whinge of drills punctuates conversation. Construction material and yellow work jackets inhabit the much-anticipated viewing floors. The Shard is officially the newest born building I’ve ever been in. I find I rather like this rough edge as I’d expected mere sterility from a house of glass and steel. But everything about The Shard says it’s is eager to make itself part of the city. Oh, and it really wants you to like it.
In fact, the first vibe I got from my visit to The Shard was a titch Disneyesque. The theme of the ride is twofold. Officially that theme is “Sky”. Unofficially, the theme is “yeaaaaay, London!” [*jazz hands*] Together I found that ironic considering that half the time you can hardly see one from the other. But moving on…
The ground level shows off its technical jazz, focused on celebrating its home. A lighted tableau of British characters enjoying the city cheerfully ushers you through to the elevators – but not before you get your photo shopped into its own scene! It’s all genuinely welcoming, though I admit to feeling as if it were a bit self-conscious, considering the controversy of The Shard’s effect of London’s skyline. (Personally, I’m ambivalent.) But hey, nothing wrong with trying to prove yourself.
Approach the elevators and fill your wait with perhaps my favorite technological touch: a diagram of the Shard against a sketch of London’s fellow landmarks, with tube lines running below all. No, really, the snaking lines of the tube system are live, showing real-time movement of trains in progress as they whoosh under the city. Love that. Not even sure why.
When the elevator takes – neigh, shall I say whisks?! – you away from this fascinating gadget, you’ll be moving at 6 meters per second. Even so, the ride also comes with LED entertainment. Not a moment is wasted in this place.
There’s some other stuff, but let’s move on to the very top where The Shard pops a real surprise. That is, it’s not just the only skyscraper in London open to the public, but it literally opens itself up to you.
It wasn’t until I took the stairs to the second level of the 360 degree view that I realized I’d been hearing the constant low whistle of wind. And it was cold up there…because that floor is open to the elements! You know when you look at the Shard it seems like the shards don’t fully meet? Well, they really don’t. Instead, you stare down at the city through the gap between those mirrored panes of glass.
“But what about the actual view?” I hear you asking. Yes of course it’s great. But then you knew that. If you’re concerned about the irony pointed out above, management insists anyone getting an eye full of clouds will be free to visit again. (The clever Tell:Scopes will serve in a pinch, “seeing” the view for you – at whatever time of day you choose – but I doubt that you’d think it was worth the entry fee for a simulation.) If you’re due to leave town you might be out of luck, so I’d suggest tourists visit at the start of their trip. Also, they gave me the feeling the issue of the their star’s actual temperament is something they will be feeling out as they go.
All in all I give it a nod. I like that it wants to be loved. I like that I had to go to the 69th’s floor just to use the toilet. (And what a toilet view it was! Sadly, there will be ones in the lobby soon.) I like that it chose to live in a part of town that hasn’t been given a full facelift. Whether it’s worth that much “dosh” to experience it would probably depend on my mood, but the open top really ups the odds. It wouldn’t be top of my list for the price, and I wouldn’t bother spending that much to take children. But there will also be restaurants and shops and a Shangri-La hotel (to open “when it’s ready”), and for an architecture fan or an adult who’s who likes to have “been there, done that”, I say, “Sure”. Why not? Take ’em right to the edge.* The Shard opens to the public on 1 February. You can book tickets here. Even if you’re not booking, the website is really cool. **Click here to learn more about Alberto Mateo’s work.