Officially inaugurated amid great pomp and circumstance, the building is small when compared to Dubai’s 2,717 foot Burj Al-Khalifa, but at 1,016 feet, it dwarfs the London Bridge Quarter in which it was built. But far from being a monument to Britain, the latest tallest building in western Europe is 95% owned by the government of Qatar.
The People Said No
During the building’s planning phase, UNESCO warned that its appearance on the city skyline could jeopardize the nearby Tower of London’s world heritage status and residents protested as well, but then deputy Prime Minister John Prescott approved the plans anyway.
“Mr Prescott would only approve skyscrapers of exceptional design,” his office announced in November, 2003. “For a building of this size to be acceptable, the quality of its design is critical. He is satisfied that the proposed tower is of the highest architectural quality.”
The 72-story mixed-use structure wrapped in steel and 11,000 panes of glass has a concrete core and cost in the region of £435 million to build. Within it are office facilities, three floors of restaurants, 10 flats that are on sale for £30-50 million a piece, and a deluxe Shangri-La hotel.
And because the development is backed by Sharia-compliant investment, tenants are subjected to certain rules.
Islamic banks are not permitted to make money from interest, though investors will make their money back somehow. Also, even though on the surface The Shard shouldn’t accommodate businesses that promote gambling or alcohol, it will be impossible to regulate said behavior among the mega-rich – the only people who will be able to afford to frequent the place.
The London Land Grab
In addition to being a vulgar display of Qatar’s wealth, The Shard’s domination of London’s skyline bears an uncanny resemblance to the land grabs in Africa.
George Monbiot recently exclaimed that peak oil isn’t as imminent as we thought and that we are cheerfully deep frying ourselves as a result, but Qatar is still planning for an eventual end to the heyday of easy oil and gas riches.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar and Prince Andrew Albert Edward, the Duke of York inaugurated the towering glass monument together as a symbol of the solid ties between the two nations.
Al Thani, according to a recent press release, stated “that the external investments embody the Qatar 2030 vision; a roadmap to achieve a diversified income that is independent from oil and gas revenues. Therefore, from an investment perspective, this landmark is the path towards realizing our objective.”
Qatar is doing well to secure its future, but at what cost to the locals? Like the Africans who are losing fertile acreage to Qatar and other food-insecure Gulf nations, Britain is losing its historical heritage to the moneymakers.
Writing for The Guardian, Aditya Chakraborrty warns that The Shard is the perfect metaphor for modern London.
So one of London’s most identifiable buildings will have almost nothing to do with the city itself. Even the office space rented out at the bottom is intended for hedge funds and financiers wanting more elbow room than they can afford in the City or Mayfair. The only working-class Londoners will presumably bus in at night from the outskirts to clean the bins. Otherwise, to all intents and purposes, this will be the Tower of the 1%.
Of course, Qatar is not the first country to assert itself outside of its own borders. China practically owns Africa, where it extracts natural resources en masse to keep the giant’s burgeoning population afloat, and Britain was one of the world’s most “successful” colonizers. But now it seems that maybe the tiny island nation is finally getting a taste of its own medicine?