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The Shard – Over A Decade of Construction

Today, the Shard stands as an 87 storey glass skyscraper in central London which extends 306 metres into the city’s skyline. It is the tallest building in the European Union and the second tallest free-standing structure in the UK, behind only the concrete tower at the Emley Moor transmitting station.

 For many people the eye-catching skyscraper represents a triumph of modern engineering and construction. What many people don’t know is that it was also a triumph over adversity and was more than a decade in the making.

The Shard – 2000 – 2013

2000: The very first concept of the Shard as a building dates back to the year 2000 when architect Renzo Piano sketched his initial design on the back of a restaurant menu in Berlin. Piano was meeting with developer Irvine Sellar who wished to redevelop the Southwark Towers.

2002: The design of the Shard is finalised, and planning permission is granted by Southwark Borough Council and a completion date of 2005 is set for the project.

2005: After a number of issues which will be discussed below, it was in 2005 that the Shard secured its first prospective tenants, the luxury Shangri-La hotel chain.

2007: Preparation for the demolition of the Southwark Towers to make room for the new development finally gets under way.

2008: The demolition of the Southwark Towers is started and when it is completed in 2009, they become the highest structure ever to be demolished in London.

2009: Actual construction of the Shard finally begins, with the first steel works becoming visible in October.

2010: Construction continues throughout 2010 and on the 23rd November the unfinished skyscraper overtakes Canary Wharf as the tallest building in London.

2011: The core of the shard reaches its full height and the structure becomes the tallest in the European Union.

2012: In March the building reaches its full height when the 500 tonne spire is winched into place. The building is formally inaugurated in June by the Prime Minister of Qatar.

2013: In January 2013 the observation deck of the Shard is opened to the public marking the final completion of the construction process.

Why did it take so long?

In spite of the fact that the construction of the Shard was a massive undertaking, for it to have finally been completed no fewer than eight years after initial estimates suggests that the process faced some significant issues along the way.

These problems began in 2002 when CABE and English Heritage opposed the planning permission granted by Southwark Council. These organisations claimed that the new structure would disrupt views of other London landmarks and would ‘tear through historic London like a shard of glass’. Ironically, it was this complaint that led to the building’s famous nickname.

This opposition led to then Deputy PM John Prescott ordering a planning inquiry. That inquiry took place in 2003 and eventually led to the government giving its backing to construction due to the fact that ‘the proposed tower is of the highest architectural quality.’

After overcoming that hurdle, construction of the Shard then faced no end of issues created by the turbulence in the global economy which led to disputes and a near stand-off between the original developers Halabi and CLS Holdings. This standoff was only resolved in 2008 when these companies were bought out by a Qatari consortium.

The Shard Today

In the present day the Shard is used by a variety of different companies and organisations for a huge array of different purposes. The ‘View from the Shard’ observation deck is a popular visitor attraction and companies such as the Shangri-La hotel and the Al-Jazeera television channel have premises within the tower.