London's Shard; Renzo Piano

The Shard by Renzo Piano, nearing completion has already marked its place as a Landmark on the London skyline.  The tallest building in Europe, its viewing gallery, which occupies stories 68 to 72, will become one of the city's major tourist attractions when it opens in 2013.  Topping off at 1,016ft high, visible from almost everywhere in the capital, you can see out of its windows for as much as 40 miles on a clear day.

Piano believes that towers such as The Shard will play an essential part in intensifying life in the center of our cities, preventing them from spreading outwards, swallowing more and more land.  They are focal points that address the problem of growth.  By placing The Shard on a major transportation hub, used by about 375,000 people a day, it connects with an existing public transport system rather than generating more road traffic and pollution.  Piano says 'the earth is fragile and must be protected, and the first thing to defend is land.  There is a nostalgic, almost romantic idea that it is more ecological to make a small building. piano says forget that theory, it is the worst way to consume land.  This is the reason that cities grow.  It is more socially correct to intensify the city and free up space on the ground.   The city is fragile and vulnerable, so we have to be careful.'

At the beginning of construction in 2009, the Shard recycled most of the rubble generated by the demolition of the 1970s Southwark Towers office building that stood on the site.  Piano and his team set out to design a building as energy efficient as possible.  The $664 million building is equipped with a triple-glazed skin with integrated sun screens that automatically shade sections of the tower when it gets too warm, decreasing use of air conditioning, and also taking advantage of the sun's warmth to reduce heating cost.

The design had to accommodate a heightened safety regime for skyscrapers introduced in the wake of 9/11.  The Shard is built around a super-strong concrete core that holds all the key services, including the escape routes.  There are a total of 44 lifts, including dedicated lifts for firefighters.