Like those explorers who sought to climb the highest mountains, reach the North and South Poles and rocket to the moon, the designers and engineers of the Industrial Age competed to lay claim to “The World’s Tallest Building” over the last 100 years. Building skyscrapers high into the sky used to be a feat of innovative engineering—with each “world’s tallest building” standing to support ego, and competitive accomplishment.
As of 2010, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates holds the official title of "Tallest Building in the World." It is taller than any other man-made structure ever built.
And as of this week, The Shard in London is currently the “Tallest Building in Europe” when it was christened in a ceremony presided over by Prince Andrew the Duke of York. It climbs 95-stories and stands at 310 meters (1,016 feet).
But I’d argue that the days of “world’s tallest” has lost its allure. We as a culture are no longer shocked and awe-inspired by feats of engineering that make buildings climb higher and higher. I say pride should be taken in the ability to transform an urban skyline with architectural beauty, rather than sheer, brut height.
And, architect Renzo Piano may be deserving of such acclaim in his elongated glass pyramid called “The Shard.” Yes, that same building that boasts claim to “Europe’s tallest building” has transformed the skyline of London with beauty. Developed by the royal family of Qatar, the building does own some of its transformational ability to its height, but it is its unique architecture that makes it stand-out. Like the Transamerica tower in San Francisco, and the Space Needle in Seattle, The Shard is set apart.
The Shard is just one of several skyscrapers now sprouting across London with nicknames that reflect the silhouettes they cast on the skyline like the "Walkie Talkie" and the "Cheese Grater."
The elongated glass pyramid, is built atop a train station in a scruffy neighborhood near the Thames, is being called a “vertical city” with offices, luxury apartments, restaurants, a 5-star hotel and a viewing gallery with 360 degree views over London.
Oh, and as for the claim of “Europe’s Tallest Building,” The Shard can only lay claim to that crown for another few months, when Russia's planned 332 meter (1,089 feet) Mercury City Tower opens at the end of the year.