No, it’s not an alien invasion! Laser show dazzles London as Shard officially opens… but would you pay £25 for a lift ride up to the top?

Europe's tallest building, the Shard on London's south bank, opened with a spectacular light and laser show

Europe’s tallest building, the Shard on London’s south bank, opened last night with a spectacular light and laser show.

Londoners flocked to rooftops, balconies and public spaces as the tower, which rises to 1,016ft above the city, was lit in blue, green, purple and gold and lasers probed out across a clear night sky in the capital.

From its uppermost floors on a crystal clear day, it is claimed you can see France.

London Bridge station resembles a toy train set at the base of the building and every other landmark in the capital suddenly looks rather stumpy.

And so it came to pass, with a fanfare of music and laser light shows, that The Shard took its formal place on London’s skyline last night – as well as a stake in the tourist trail.

This skinny, shiny, pointy addition to an already crowded landscape officially became the tallest in Western Europe yesterday with an inauguration ceremony that has been pending for the last 12 years.

It also set itself up as ‘the new premier visitor experience’, selling tickets today to allow public access from February to its viewing platform. But it might not be the altitude that makes you giddy.

At more than £87 for a family of four, a 30-second, 800ft trip in the lift to the 68th floor vantage point works out at more than £10 a foot.

From here, you can gaze out across the Thames towards a neighbouring cluster of other jauntily named buildings such as The Gherkin, the Cheese Grater and the Walkie-Talkie.

The £500million Shard is the newest name in the catalogue. But why? The answer, according to mayor Boris Johnson yesterday: ‘The Shard is more than just an amazing feat of engineering – it is a towering illustration of London’s determination to beat the recession and spur economic growth.’

He confidently pledged it would act as ‘a huge commercial magnet, creating vital new jobs and pulling in scores of businesses’. How many tenants at the moment?
Er, just one, actually.

At the last count it was due to open with 26 floors of office space still to let, and a question mark over who might pay around £30million for a flat with a postcode in one of the capital’s grubbiest areas.

But just look at it. The Shard rises dramatically from its site in Southwark, on the southern edge of the Thames, and has been climbing steadily skywards since it became the UK’s highest building 20 months ago when construction took its core to a mere 774ft, more than a yard higher than Canary wharf, and rising.

It’s an undeniably spectacular building that designers planned as a ‘vertical city’ with a hotel, offices, apartments and restaurants. In the sunlight yesterday it glistened magnificently, and when the laser show started, they lit not just the night sky, but some of the other landmark structures nearby.

Yet you can’t help feeling sorry for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, or the castellated majesty of the Tower of London, both of which have been eclipsed by a 21st century spire of steel, concrete and glass. Especially glass.

And no – they still haven’t found anyone to take on the window cleaning contract for those 11,000 glass panels.

The Shard began life as architect Renzo Piano’s sketch on the back of a restaurant menu. Since then countless critics who didn’t want to live in glass houses began to throw stones.

Step forward Britain’s once-legendary arbiter of style and good taste: John Prescott. The former environment and transport secretary and Labour’s deputy prime minister cut through objections to the scheme and gave permission for The Shard to be built. Qatari backers provided most of the money.

Yesterday, Qatar’s prime minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani joined the Duke of York at an inauguration ceremony, symbolising what each camp described as ‘the solid and continuing relationship between two countries.

There are 72 occupiable floors but with its hat on (further floors narrowing to a point) it stands as high as an 87-storey building and scrapes the sky at an impressive 1,016ft.

That comfortably makes it six times taller than Nelson’s column, but still 438ft short of the Empire State Building; and it is dwarfed by the 2,717ft Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building.

Yesterday, however, they were keen to point out that the Shard is more about attitude than altitude.

Irvine Sellar, who heads the development company behind the project, insists: ‘It’s not an ego thing. We’re not the tallest building in the world by a long way, but we are the best-looking in Europe.’ With Wren’s masterpiece sunlit in the background, that is a bold claim indeed.

But St Pauls – all but engulfed by modern developments – can never match The Shard’s panoramic outlook, which, even from lower floors, is breathtaking.

Luxury apartments at the top are being trumpeted as having the most sought-after view in London, stretching at least 40 miles and sometimes right across the English Channel.

Here’s a thought though. If you really want to see France that badly, why not build a house there instead? And save £87.80 each time you look at it.

‘We have a long heritage and continued commitment to invest and build in the UK for the long term and The Shard highlights this close relationship.’

The skyscraper is part of a 2m sq ft development in Southwark called London Bridge Quarter.

The Shard and its sister development The Place are linked with London Bridge Station through a new central plaza, public realm, bus station and train station concourse.

The Shard’s tenure at the top of the European height chart is likely to be short-lived, as the 1,089ft Mercury City Tower in Russia is set to be completed by the end of the year.

Tickets to go up and see the view from 244 metres (800ft) above London will go on sale at 9am tomorrow. The View from The Shard attraction will open on February 1 next year and more than 17,500 people have already registered their interest online.

Advance tickets cost £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children and can be booked at or by calling 0844 499 7111. A handling fee applies for telephone bookings only.


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