Someone who has seen the Shard apartments says they are ‘extraordinary’ – and empty
Is there anyone living in the highest homes in Europe?
Two years ago, the New York Times published a disdainful column about London, in which the Shard acted as an exemplar of the capital’s moral decline.
“The Shard is London, a symbol of a city where oligarchs are celebrated and migrants are exploited,” it explained, reporting that, “on the top floors, ‘ultra high-net-worth individuals’ entertain escorts in luxury apartments.”
If the article’s assessment of London’s deference towards the super-rich hit the mark, the image of oligarchs paying for sex in the Shard’s apartments was pure fiction.
The ten apartments in question occupy floors 53 to 65 of the 1000ft skyscraper, making them the most elevated homes in western Europe. On a clear day, their residents can watch the ferries cross the North Sea.
But when the New York Times conjured its fantasy of plutocratic debauchery, the apartments had no residents. And last summer I got official confirmation that they still didn’t.
A very friendly PR, hired by The Shard’s owners to promote the building and its surrounding area (the ambitiously christened London Bridge Quarter – it’s London Bridge, for fuck’s sake) got in touch to suggest a feature about “the people of the Shard”.
In the ensuing emails no residents were mentioned, so I asked who was living there.“There are no people living at the Shard,” came the reply. Still awaiting a buyer then? “No, the apartments are not for sale or rent.”
The notion of the Shard as a tower that combines working, eating and living has been central to its publicity – and its claim to legitimacy in our metropolis. Developer Irvine Sellar – who jointly owns the Shard with the State of Qatar – has repeatedly spoken of his “vision of creating a vertical city,” which is the development’s slogan.
As the tower was being erected, details of the apartments’ grandeur were leaked to the press. Future occupants would be able to see the Grandstand at Ascot and residents of the three duplex apartments would be able to order caviar and champagne from the Shangri-La hotel below via a special service lift. A journalist asked the Shard’s spokesman Baron Phillips what form the sale of the flats would take. “Oh, I should think about 20 phone calls should do it, don’t you?” he replied, smugly.
So what happened? How can it be that a quarter of a kilometre above London there is a chunk of property big enough to accommodate 80 average British homes, and all of it is empty?
“I don’t think they were shown to any potential buyers,” says a consultant who worked for the engineering company Arup on the building, and who spoke last year on the condition of anonymity.
That is confirmed by a property bigwig who is one of a very small number to have set foot inside two finished apartments. Indeed, these are the ones of the total ten to be finished completely. “They have never been marketed, ever,” he says. “No one has seen them. It is incredible, really.”
He says, “the units that have been done up are amazing”. The fittings were apparently created by interior designer Daniel Goldberg, who declined to comment. “They are extraordinary,” says the property man.
After speaking to both men, I went on a tour of the Shard with the PR who had sent the original email and asked about the apartments. “They have been retained by the owners for their personal use,” she said, as we shot past them in the lift to the viewing station. She said the Qatari sheikhs visit the offices quite often for meetings but no one lives in the “residences”.
Some people who know London’s obscene property market guess that the owners couldn’t get the £20m-£50m prices they wanted for the flats because wealthy buyers didn’t fancy hanging out in London Bridge station, and the Qataris didn’t want to lose face. Others have speculated that the flats might become tenth homes for the royal family’s offspring in years to come, making the Shard a foreign palace in the sky.
Last week the Shard’s PR company Edelman did not respond to requests for comment. This morning, hours before publication, they called to say that they still couldn’t comment because saying whether or not anyone lived in the Shard would compromise their client’s privacy. What if they just said there was finally someone living in the Shard but didn’t name them, removing the privacy issue? I’m afraid not.
It seems fitting. When it was being built, the Shard was described by its developers and appointed estate agents as “a beacon for modern London.” Which, with its flats empty, like so many of the best homes in the capital, it kind of is.