Yo, please welcome our contenders: two emblems of English visual culture that differ in their design and time of existence. One embodies the passage of time and evokes the curiosity of historians and scholars alike. The other… a building with a top view of the city and a hotel. Nothing you haven’t heard of before.
The Shard might look like nothing you’ve seen before from the outside: an unusual skyscraper that’s more pointed than other buildings you’ve seen before. Other than that, once you enter the building and take a look at the reception and the rooms in the Shangri-La hotel, it’s no different from other hotels. Aside from the view that has made the building popular, the hotel in The Shard functions just as any other hotel does: by offering a place to spend the night while traveling abroad. The only fact that separates the building from others is possibly the view; however, I felt that The Shard felt short on this as well. In my opinion, St Paul’s Cathedral offered a much better (and truthful) view of London from atop that The Shard did. The view from The Shard doesn’t make justice to the visual city: it’s blurry to a point where the city’s more famous landmarks are unrecognizable. No matter how tall The Shard claims to stand, “highness” doesn’t necessarily mean a better view. On the other hand, St Paul’s sight from atop offers a more truthful view of England’s capital, in which the landmarks are easily recognized and not distorted as is the case in The Shard.
St Paul's top offers a more truthful view of the city. The buildings and landmarks can be distinguished from each other. Also, the viewer feels equal from where they're standing, unlike in The Shard where they feel as if they are looking down at the city, in a more condescending manner.
The Shard's view. Distorted and not as truthful to look at. All the buildings blend in the distance, which makes them appear to look the same. Very few distinctive features of the city stand out, which makes London appear as any other city with skyscrapers.
Another of my criticisms of The Shard is how it seeks to compete with other landmarks that are more truthful of English visual culture. As I mentioned, the sight from The Shard is much distorted, which can be deceiving for the people that stay in the hotel before venturing in the city. The view is condescending and pretentious: it looks down on London and turns its most precious landmarks into insignificant Lego pieces. In addition, the building felt foreign and as if it didn’t fit with the British culture we’ve familiarized ourselves with during the past couple weeks. Sure, our guide mentioned that The Shard intends to “be different,” however, it completely disregards British culture altogether. When going inside, I felt as if I was in a different country, maybe Middle Eastern or Asia. On top of that, a view distorting the sights of London makes the guests completely forget which city they are in.
Moving on to Stonehenge, this monument evoked much more emotions from me that The Shard did. It probably didn’t cost millions to build, but its humility and ability to stand the passage of time made me feel curious and attracted to its enigma. In addition, Stonehenge is far more interesting to look at than The Shard is. Stonehenge offers many angles to the viewer, providing a different perspective and story to analyze. It’s also more unique in that it the angles differ one from the other (I’m guessing that all the rooms in the Shangri-La hotel have a bedroom and toilets, right?). Lastly and very important, this epic monument is a true emblem of ancient British culture that has stood the passage of time up until today. Although the theories differ about the purpose that Stonehenge serves, at least these theories tell me far more about visual culture than The Shard does.
Photography Credit: nationalgeographic.com
For example, by looking at Stonehenge I have inferred that the culture responsible for building it was probably advanced in producing tools to track the passage of time or navigation tools, since the landmark resembles a clock or a compass rose from the top view. In conclusion, although I praise Renzo Piano's vision and aim for the unconventional, I have to say that product of that vision was too pretentious and it can't compare to other landmarks of traditional English visual culture.