Shard reaches for the sky through London clouds

While the City of London ricochets through yet another crisis, all is quiet 309 metres above the United Kingdom's money zone as the Shard is completed today.

A view of the Shard in London. The exterior construction of western Europe's tallest building is set to be completed today. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP Photo
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While the City of London ricochets through yet another crisis, all is quiet 309 metres above the United Kingdom's money zone.

The exterior of the Shard, a luminous stalagmite of a building that pierces London's skyline, is to be completed today. This risky skyscraper, now Europe's tallest tower, has been finished as Britain struggles to pull itself out of a recession and deal with the continuing fallout of a global financial crisis.

It has taken 13 years to reach this point and there have been days when Irvine Sellar, the former market trader turned developer, never thought the building would be realised.

That it has been is largely due to Qatar's central bank, which stepped in to fund the vertical city designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano in 2007, when the credit markets froze.

This afternoon Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, Qatar's prime minister, will unveil a plaque in the lobby of the 87-storey building, which looms above London Bridge station, close to the Thames's South Bank.

He will be joined by a clutch of dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II's second son, the Duke of York, the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

The VIPs will then be taken to the 69th floor to enjoy the 360-degree views of the capital, seven months before the viewing platform will be opened to the public. This evening a spectacular laser show and the London Philharmonic Orchestra will commemorate the tower's arrival.

Mr Sellar saidthat the tower now looked "very much like he had imagined", back in 2000 when he had first persuaded Mr Piano to come on board. Mr Piano has compared his design to a shard of glass and sees the tower's spire as complementary to the capital's church steeples.

"This is a major milestone and I finally feel that we are winning," said Mr Sellar. "But that is not the end of it."

The tower has 585,000 square feet of office space and not yet a single tenant. Mr Sellar said he was in talks with at least three potential tenants, expected to take about 100,000 sq ft. "We're seeing an enormous amount of interest but we are being selective, despite the economy. If you want an address in a building that is globally known you will be looking at this one. We're not under any pressure to let it," said Mr Sellar.

The tower, and a neighbouring office development, will have cost £1.5 billion (Dh8.61bn) by the time both are completed, but could be worth as much as £2.5bn.

Without Qatari money, many believe the tower could never have been completed. Some see the Shard as a symbol of the shift of power from the troubled markets of Europe and the United States to the strong Gulf and Eastern economies.

"We will never know the answer to that, but I am very proud to have them as my partners," said Mr Sellar, whose Sellar Property Group retains 5 per cent of the development.

The public viewing gallery is expected to draw 2 million visitors a year.

An unusually large number of blue-chip tenants will see their London office leases expire in the next 12 months, at a time when there is little new space being constructed. The Shard's owners are banking on this to help fill up the new building.

All they need now is for Britain's businesses to feel confident enough to take space in a high-rise building that is a landmark for chutzpah for miles around.

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