Renzo Piano, The Shard's Architect, Profiled in a New Exhibition

Taking a look at Renzo Piano's famous London building, The Shard, both inside and out.

As the Royal Academy of Arts looks back at the career of Renzo Piano, the architect behind iconic landmarks from Centre Pompidou in Paris to The Shard in London, take a closer look at Western Europe’s tallest building.

A Thoughtful Designer

Like his buildings, Renzo Piano is elegant, restrained and thoughtful. The Genoese master builder has worked his way around the world, designing structures that have both a lightness, steadiness and a certain ‘wow’ factor. And now, this grand old gentleman of architecture is about to be honoured with a show at the Royal Academy of Arts – "Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings" (15 Sep-20 Jan, 2018).

He has designed Kansai Airport in Osaka, Sydney’s Aurora Place skyscraper, Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,  and, perhaps, his most famous work: the Centre Pompidou art and design museum in Paris, dreamt up along with his friend and collaborator, Richard Rogers, in the 1970s.

One London building of Piano’s that you can’t fail to miss is, of course, the city’s highest skyscraper, The Shard, which is also the tallest building in Western Europe.

The Shard, London, UK
The distinctive Shard in shiny glass is famed for the jagged point. (©Valdisskudre/iStock)

Shards of Glass

The Shard wasn’t universally loved at first. It was felt that the building was too overbearing, like a sore thumb sticking up out of a neighbourhood without many tall buildings. The City (London’s financial district) has sprouted a forest of skyscrapers – including several by Rogers – but the London Bridge area has few. Some aspects of the design were also questioned; the top has a kind of unfinished quality to it.

Nevertheless, The Shard has grown in the hearts of Londoners and visitors alike, not least because this is one tall building that you can actually visit. The vieling gallery The View from The Shard is a real eye-opener (tip: only pay to go up on a sunny day, as you can end up enveloped by mist and see nothing if it’s cloudy). 

At the top, you can feel the wind and get a real sense of how high up you are. One of the cheekiest views is from the toilets in The View from The Shard, where you can enjoy the amazing panorama through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

View from the Shard, London, UK
The View From the Shard affords superb panoramas of the city from the viewing platform of the huge structure. (©Iakov Kalinin)

The pyramid-shaped building stands at a height of 309.7 metres (1,016 feet). Piano was inspired by the appearance of glass when it breaks into shards. It was built between 2009 and 2012 by an army of engineers and construction workers, which also involves completely rebuilding London Bridge railway and Tube stations.

Eat, Drink and Sleep

As well as The View from The Shard, there are several other options to get you inside this modern marvel. You can stay in one of the 202 bedrooms at the Shangri-La Hotel if you want a night of luxury. There are also several bars and restaurants: Bar 31 near the bottom for a quick drink or coffee, TĪNG Lounge and restaurant for a relaxed Asian supper, and Gŏng – the 52nd-floor cocktail bar. Hutong serves cuisine from the northern part of China, while you can enjoy British flavours at Aqua Shard on floor 31. Oblix is one of the most prestigious propositions in the building – comprising a sophisticated bar and restaurant on the 32nd floor.

Gong, Shangri La hotel at The Shard, London, UK
Venues like Gong, in The Shard, have a huge appeal for its amazing views. (©Shangri-La at The Shard)

And did you know that you can even live in The Shard? There are 13 floors of apartments, though with price tags of up to £50m, they have proved a tricky sell. The tower was envisaged by Renzo Piano as a ‘vertical city’, and it also houses the offices of companies such as Kraft Heinz, Al Jazeera and Tiffany & Co. It is one of Piano’s crowning achievements and his upcoming Royal Academy exhibition, curated in partnership with Piano and his office, tells you the story of the man and even more of his delicate designs.