Renzo Piano’s Shard in the Sky

Lbt_c065 Dan Stewart in Building:

Clad in white ceramic rods, the New York Times HQ is a beacon on the Manhattan skyline. Piano is pleased with the result. “The owners like it, the people love it. They trusted us to build a building that is safe, and yet transparent. It works very well.”

After such groundbreaking work in Manhattan, Piano now has his sights set on London, and perhaps his most famous commission in recent years – the Shard of Glass. The designs for the 310m tower had a frostier reception than the New York Times HQ, with English Heritage (EH) calling it in for a public inquiry. Although he once described EH as “perverse,” he now claims some kinship with the public body. “In Manhattan, you have a generation of people who know towers, who understand a landscape of tall buildings,” he says. “In London, there is a medieval tradition that needs to be understood. It is the British way.”

As regular readers of Building will know, doubts remain as to the Shard’s financial viability, with many commentators not believing it will ever see the light of day. But Piano is so sure it will be built he has already started to build a large mock-up of the facade in a field in Genoa; the idea is to examine how it reflects light. “The light will change from wherever you are,” Piano says.

Like many other tall buildings, the Shard has been labelled unsustainable. The energy footprint of the 66-storey tower will be huge, and it has long been recognised that glass buildings are difficult to make sustainable. But Piano is quick to defend the project: “The sustainability of this building is as much in its position as in its construction. There will be no car parking spaces here. I would not have designed it if it were not on top of a train station.”