Joost Moolhuijzen, partner in charge, Renzo Piano Building Workshop on the Stirling Prize-shortlisted Shard
What was your initial concept?
The initial design concept was to make a vertical extension of the city with a 24/7 mixed use. Progressively changing from functions requiring large floor plates at the lower levels towards functions requiring small floor plates towards the top, would allow the tower to have a light presence in the London sky. We also lifted the building off the ground plane in order to give space to the public realm and to London Bridge Station.
Did the executed project differ from this initial concept?
Frankly, what was built is very close to the initial design concept. The only major difference is that at first we designed a 400m-high tower, which we reduced to 306m shortly after, driven by the Civil Aviation Authority regulations.
What was the client’s input?
This was an exceptional brief. Sellar Property Group wanted a tall tower with a minimum of 900,000ft2 (84,000m2) of lettable space - that was it. They gave us a lot of freedom to design the tower as Irvine Sellar strongly believed this was the best way to get planning approval. When the design was established we worked very closely with the client to make the programme work in a very open and cooperative but of course challenging spirit.
What was the most challenging aspect of the project - and why?
The challenges changed over time; we started the project in 2000 and finished it in 2013.
In the first phase the biggest challenge was the public inquiry
In the second phase it was making the building work technically, functionally and financially while keeping the design integrity.
In the third phase it was making the public realm and the transformation of the station work, which was challenging.
In the fourth phase the challenge was to make sure the contractors stayed loyal to the design intent.
What is the most important lesson you have taken from this project?
If you believe in a project and you have a good client you can make it work whatever the obstacles are on the road to completion.
Where does this building sit within the evolution of the practice?
We always nurture the idea to do both ‘cultural projects’ such as museums and ‘commercial’ projects such as the Shard with the same design integrity and passion. The challenges are different but we do not treat them differently - this is very important. The Shard project confirmed our view that this philosophy works.