By Carol Grisanti, NBC News
LONDON -- Built at a cost of $2.35 billion in tough economic times, Europe's new tallest skyscraper has become a lightning rod for criticism even before it officially opens Thursday.
Rising more than 1,000 feet above London's skyline with floor space equivalent to 31.4 acres -- or close to 15 football fields -- the Shard is Europe’s boldest and most extravagant building. It was funded by Qatar's royal family, who boast pockets as deep as the tower is high.
But it’s more than just sheer size that gives the tower its swagger. The building’s design is already iconic. It’s crafted from 11,000 glass panels, which resemble shards of glass (hence, its name). They incline inwards as they rise to the top culminating in a sharp-angled jagged spire. The shards never touch and there are fissures along the way, which allow the entire structure to “breathe.”
'A vertical city'
It has has been compared to an "iceberg jutting out of the Thames River" -- not so much scraping the skyline rather cutting it through like a knife.
“It’s a vertical city,” said Renzo Piano, the acclaimed Italian architect who designed the building. A city featuring 28 floors of office space, three floors of restaurants, 10 luxury apartments spread out over 12 floors, a five-star hotel with 200 rooms and a viewing gallery on the 72nd floor, which will be open to the public. The finished structure suggests harmony, technical perfection and purity of design in architectural terms.
But try telling that to its detractors -- who say it represents arrogance, power and money as Britain grapples with a double-dip recession and austerity cuts. Critics suspect mega-rich foreigners will be the only people wealthy enough to move in.
As the world's 59th tallest building, there is plenty to boast about. It features 44 elevators, 306 flights of stairs and 72 occupiable floors. A further 15 levels make up its spire. The project was 12 years in the making and will be inaugurated Thursday night with great fanfare -- a spectacular light and laser show beaming across the tower to light up London’s night skies, all to the music of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.