Walk tall at The Shard in London for a high price

Updated: 2013-01-12 09:54

By Agence France-Presse in London (China Daily)

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Walk tall at The Shard in London for a high price

A man takes a photograph of himself next to a window on the public viewing deck at The Shard, Western Europe's tallest building, in London. The observation deck is reached by high-speed elevators on the 310-meter building and will be open to the public on Feb 1. [Luke Macgregor / Agencies]

The Shard - Western Europe's tallest skyscraper - will open its viewing platform to the public on Feb 1, giving unrivaled views over London and defiantly snubbing critics of the gigantic tower.

The 310-meter Shard has been described as too tall, too futuristic, too likely to cast its shadow over London's historic monuments and too costly at a time of austerity, even though 95 percent of its 450-million-pound ($727 million) cost was financed by Qatar.

William Matthews, project architect for the gleaming, jagged-tipped building designed by Italian super-architect Renzo Piano, dismisses the critics.

"The Eiffel Tower was a building that was hated when it was built, and now it is much loved by the Parisians," he said.

"These tall buildings - the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building - become symbols that people associate with their city."

For Matthews, it was crucial for the public to have access to the new skyscraper.

"It's not just a private building for a few exclusive people," he said.

But visitors heading to the viewing decks between floors 68 and 72 will need deep pockets as well as a strong head for heights, with tickets costing 24.95 pounds per adult.

The relatively steep prices - another criticism frequently leveled at The Shard's developers - have not deterred everyone, however.

The attraction has taken tens of thousands of pre-bookings and hopes its high-speed elevators will carry up to 1.5 million people each year to the deck, which offers stunning 360-degree views from a height of 244 meters.

"It's a natural starting point for exploring the UK's capital," said Andy Nyberg, chief executive of The View from The Shard.

The attraction includes screens showing documentaries on the city's history and inhabitants, as well as an introduction to British humor in the form of giant montages.

Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister known as the Iron Lady, is shown pedaling alongside her philosophical nemesis Karl Marx on a tandem bicycle.

Winston Churchill, meanwhile, appears in Union Jack-patterned shorts, his ever-present cigar clamped in his mouth.

Passengers will rise at a speed of six meters a second to reach the viewing platforms - the highest of which is open to the elements - to strains of original elevator music recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.

On a clear day, they will be able to see for 60 kilometers around - the River Thames snaking into the distance, along with famous landmarks including Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.

"It will feel like flying," said Piano, whose previous creations include the colorful Center Pompidou art gallery in Paris.