Thursday, October 11, 2012
Having been pretty much off-line from here of late, I thought I'd do a quick post on having actually seen the Shard close up, albeit briefly, during my UK visit a few weeks back. Coming from Hong Kong, the immediate height is not quite so startling as it might be to those less used to living with these sorts of buildings. But what I did find interesting, and what got me thinking a bit, was the whole way in which the tower touches the ground.
If you take a typical Hong Kong skyscraper, they tend to be quite public at their lower levels- typically linking into a very public podium, containing shops, restaurants, the MTR etc. The way they meet the actual street is another issue, typically less important (or in the case of the Bank of China, just disappointing), and more alienating to the pedestrian than all important podium level. Obviously this links into a greater podium / raised walkway urban strategy, that isn't how I believe cities as a whole should be designed, but it does have it's merits. The buildings may be tall monuments to capitalism that prey to the Gods of Mall culture, but they are accessible and they do tend to contribute to very efficient dense city living where cars are superfluous and public transport rules. Cyclists- well, you're just weird.
By contrast, the Shard has all the same adjacent components to say, IFC or ICC. It has London Bridge next door, shops and restaurants all around, and it houses, or will house, big financial institutions and a hotel at the top. But somehow, at street level, it is a very alienating building with security guards keeping you out of the lobby. You pass by to the Underground on a wind swept plaza, before battling your way past pigeons and crisp packets trying to reach the South Bank. A lot of change has happened all around, but somehow that European ideal of 'street' seems to have met it's match when confronted with such a tall building. It's impressive, but it doesn't seem to 'contribute'. It'll be interesting to see how it fares once at full operational capacity, and if that perspective changes if and when the hotel opens itself up to the public to order a Blackberry Mojito looking over London.
I'm not so sure there is such a thing as a touchy feely all encompassing mega tall skyscraper that will please everyone. The UK as a society is more used to preaching globally than to be preached at, and I'll be the first to defend the importance of street. But perhaps there are lessons to be learned from how other cities do these things- be that Hong Kong, New York, Dubai or Shanghai. I'm not saying London Bridge missed an opportunity to become the new Shibuya, but somehow it feels like it missed the opportunity to either embrace that streetscape ideal, or shunt it all together and provide an urban link away from the pigeons.