It already dominates the London skyline, but today the Shard will be officially inaugurated with a spectacular light and lasar show. Yet so far, tenants are thin on the ground.
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It has been 12 years in the making, the entire project costing more than £1.5bn. But tonight, as Prince Andrew joins the Qatari prime minister and various luminaries at the ceremony to unveil the Shard, its 589.602 square feet of office space remain largely unlet.
The 310 metre high structure was famously sketched out by Italian architect Renzo Piano during a lunch in Berlin. Yesterday he said he hoped it would become a "social" aspect of London: "I hope (people) will feel that this building has a little poetic soul," he explained. "It will reflect the weather in London, whatever it is."
The building has been described by its developers as a "virtual city", with offices, a hotel, luxury apartments and a public viewing platform with spectacular views over the capital. It will form part of a larger new development around the London Bridge area, including a new bus station, railway concourse and offices.
I hope (people) will feel that this building has a little poetic soul. Renzo Piano, architect
When the project finally got off the ground, there was initial financing from the Nationwide Building Society and a pre-let tenancy agreement with Transport for London. Then the credit crunch hit: a promised loan from Credit Suisse failed to come through, and the Qataris took over, with the country's central bank agreeing to fund the entire project.
The Shard's developer, Irvine Sellars, told Property Week: "Like a lot of countries, they look to use their wealth to invest and further improve their image. They are proud of the building, as we are, and as Londoners will be."
Search for tenants
Transport for London was bought out. After a somewhat low-key marketing push by the letting agents Jones Lang LaSalle and Knight Frank, the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera television are in talks to take over some 30,000 square feet, and Sellars is confident the office space can be let within a couple of years, insisting they were being "very selective" about prospective tenants.
The hotel space, which will occupy floors 33 to 53, has already been taken by the Asian luxury hotel group Shangri-La. Sellar said they had been looking for a London site for 12 years when he showed them the Shard. "They looked at the views over London and said: 'We've found our Shangri-La.' That brought a little tear to my eye."
The 10 flats, which will take the 12 floors above, are expected to sell for between £30m and £50m each: no wonder, then, that critics have described the building as part of London's new "oligarchitecture", in hock to the "hot money" which has flooded the square mile. In an added irony, the music being played at tonight's ceremony will be Copeland's Fanfare to the Common Man.
Qatar can easily afford it: thanks to new-found oil and gas wealth, it is now the world's richest country in terms of per capita income. While most nations are grappling with austerity measures and financial turmoil, Qatar's economy grew by 20 per cent in 2011: the national investment authority has £64bn in assets - £10bn of it has already been invested in Britain.
The emirate already owns a range of London landmarks, including Harrods, the new Olympic village, Chelsea Barracks, the world's most expensive apartment block, One Hyde Park and, at the grungier end of the scale, part of Camden Market.
Beyond that rather impressive property portfolio, Qatar also has a 6 per cent stake in Barclays, making it the bank's single largest investor. It owns 26 per cent of Sainsburys and 20 per cent of the London Stock Exchange.
This is about creating a long term partnership. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saud al-Thani
But it is with the Shard that they are perhaps hoping to buy a more permanant part of London's soul - and a more permanant link with the British state. Qatar's central bank governor, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saud al-Thani, said:"This is about creating a long term partnership and it also shows our confidence in the economy of London." That kind of partnership, unions have warned, could leave Britain seriously over-dependent on the Gulf state.
Amid the concern of critics and those forced to live in the shadow of the giant Shard, architect, Renzo Piano, was at least certain of his legacy: "London started here", he said, "and we're bringing energy back to this part of the city."
And there is a nice contract up for grabs for anyone willing to clean the windows of a glass building with the surface area of eight football pitches. Bring on the laser show!