Splinter in the Sky: The Shard

March 9, 2013 — So I was sitting there in my home, watching this episode of Doctor Who about people getting their souls sucked out of their bodies through WiFi by a baddies headquartered in an extremely tall, futuristic-looking, thin glass pyramid in London. I remember thinking, “Wait, how do the people of London not see this obviously alien piece of architecture completely dominating their skyline?” Eventually, I realized they were just not going to address this glaring plot hole (which I was admittedly used to from recent seasons of Doctor Who). Somewhere around the part where the Doctor is racing up the side of the skyscraper on an antigrav motorcycle, I started getting a suspicion. I Googled.

Turns out, what I took to be well-rendered CGI was an actual skyscraper in London that I had no clue about.

Nine months later I was standing on top of it.

They call it the Shard, and it was completed in March of 2012, a year before that episode aired. So technically, it was, or is, a brand new building. Still, I suddenly felt very parochial for not knowing about it.

It’s no surprise to me that the Shard is a London building. Well, it would have been my second guess after Abu Dhabi or Dubai or some place like that (Wikipedia says that Qatar is actually part-owner of the building). London is great at preserving old architecture while creative exciting new buildings for the city. Like the Gherkin or Lloyd’s or City Hall. Here in the States we often just build rectangles. Lots and lots of rectangles.

At over 1,000 feet high with 72 floors, the Shard is the tallest building in both London and the European Union. I mean, the thing just sits there poking the sky like it’s ready to lift off or receive extraterrestrial beams from the sky. This is how artists in the 1950s depicted cities of the future.

And it has a public observation deck. Yup, it’s currently London’s Signature Tall Thing.

The website recommends reserving a time slot online, but since that day in London was a weird one for me, I had to ear it by play. In fact, I didn’t make it there until after dark, like 8 pm…which I admit doesn’t seem too late, but it was the same day I crossed the ocean, so it was like my 30th hour in a row of being awake.

It was the end of December, and the observation deck had only been open since February of that same year. I’m not sure if that meant it was people-tested enough or not. They actually just hit their millionth visitor two weeks ago, so I was probably visitor number 840,000,000.

Despite not having a reservation, I got right in after a quick security check that entailed them having to make sure my DSLR was real. To test it, the security guy took the below picture. Keep in mind, this was me at the 30th hour and 3,000th mile of awakeness. Too much math in this post.

My tired face, my camera, but technically, I think I need his permission to post this picture.

They were doing a brisk business that night, but it took no time to get to the top. There was no real line, and the elevator was like antigrav motorcycle fast. By the way, those don't exist. I Googled.

They simultaneously dropped us off at and elevated us to floor 69, which is at about the 800-foot mark of the Shard’s full 1,000 feet. Walking around the room and seeing the 360-degree view of London at night, well, floored me…for three minutes. Then I realized I could take the stairs to the 72nd floor, where I was not only higher up, but had open sky above me.

The tip of the Shard is a series of overlapping triangular panels of various heights without a roof. It’s this crown that makes the tip of the Shard look slightly unfinished from a distance. The experience wasn’t vertiginous at all, as I still felt like I was in a room, albeit a glass one, and the slight chill was bracing.

Because it was nighttime, London was just a twinkling firmament, but everything was recognizable. I could see Tower Bridge and the Tower of London just across it, which is where I’d spent my morning. I could see the London Eye and the Palace of Westminster. A python loop of the Thames. Basically, I saw all of London in a night.

At 25 pounds per person, it was way overpriced for the 20 minutes I was there, but these things usually are. I assume they have a pretty hefty rent themselves, although low overhead…figuratively speaking. It would’ve been way more worth the money if they’d projected a massive version of Richard E. Grant’s face glowering down at us high up on one of the glass walls.

I'm ending with a Doctor Who joke, I guess.