Tall buildings: the sky’s the limit

London’s new architectural hero, the 309-metre Shard, officially launches this February, marking an upward trend for iconic tall structures in historic cities across the world

Countries such as the UAE and China have set the groundwork for the world’s current love affair with tall buildings in recent times. The 828-metre Burj Khalifa was crowned the highest in the world on completion in 2010 and last year OMA’s design for the China Central Television’s headquarters surprised viewers with two towers that lean towards each other before bridging to form a distorted loop. However, Europe’s old-world cities are now following suit with a raft of innovatively designed skyscrapers.

In London, Italian architect Renzo Piano has designed a dynamic new symbol for the English capital. The Shard sits on the River Thames in the heart of London, centrally located between the districts of West End, Westminster, the South Bank, the City and Canary Wharf and is visible from almost anywhere in the city of eight million people.

The name ‘Shard’ comes from its elegantly sculpted design, consisting of glass facets that incline inwards but do not meet at the top, but instead open to the sky to allow the building to ‘breathe’ naturally. Its form also recalls the shape of the many London church spires dotted across the cityscape below. The Shard is one of a slew of new tall buildings springing up in a city known until now for its low-lying skyline.

Moscow – admired for its interesting mix of medieval and Soviet buildings – is another European city going through an architectural renaissance. Mercury City Tower, a skyscraper designed by late US architect Frank Williams and Russia’s Mikhail Posokhin, takes the title of Europe’s tallest building away from its London rival.

The bronze hue of the tapering tower structure “ties into the city's fabric and has a strong reference to Russian Constructivism” says the architect. This allusion to an important period of early 20th-century design gives the structure a strong vertical thrust similar to the one found in New York's Chrysler Building.

Making lasting monuments is the driving force for the visionary developers and architects who see their iconic designs made concrete. But some make an impact even when they don’t construct.

One Middle Eastern artist and architect who takes the concept of building cities to a whole new level is Lebanese Nadim Karam. His controversial idea for how to reconfigure public space amidst Dubai’s growing cityscape, ‘The Cloud’, is an as yet unrealized and playful design.

Karam's design for a 20,000m2 landscape-in-the-sky comprises a lake, gardens, rotating bridges, spiraling walkways and terraces sitting on giant stilts above the city. The building takes the form of a horizontal presence on an elevated platform. As they say, ‘The sky’s the limit’.