The first guests at western Europe’s tallest hotel came expecting unforgettable views – but may have got more than they bargained for.
The bedrooms in Shangri-La’s luxury hotel, which opened last week in London’s 310m-tall Shard building, come with binoculars so guests can survey the city’s landmarks through the floor-to-ceiling windows. But thanks to a quirk in the building’s design, some rooms also come with potentially revealing views of other guests.
Renzo Piano, the Italian architect, envisaged the tower as a “shard of glass”, and its multi-faceted profile is achieved in part by glass panels that protrude several metres beyond the corners. During the day, these are barely noticeable from inside – hotel guests and workers in the offices below can look straight through them – but at night, with internal lights switched on, they act as mirrors, giving a line of sight straight back into neighbouring rooms.
It is a potentially embarrassing postscript to the story of the building’s long and difficult gestation. The Shard’s design was first sketched by Mr Piano on the back of a menu in a Berlin restaurant in 2000, and its opening was scheduled for 2009. However, tenants proved hard to find and the project was nearly derailed by the financial crisis – only being saved by the last-minute sale of 80 per cent of the building to a consortium of Qatari investors.
The Shard finally opened to the public in January 2013, but to date only 30 per cent of the office space has been let. The Shangri-La hotel finally opened last Tuesday, but with only 59 of its 202 bedrooms ready. The remainder will be finished in the coming months, along with the top-floor infinity pool and champagne bar.
When the Financial Times stayed at the hotel last week, guests in the neighbouring room were clearly visible as they prepared for bed, as was the bed in another room on a lower floor.
Of course, many hotels have bedrooms that look into the windows of others, but the Shangri-La is unique in that the entire walls are windows, and guests will naturally want to keep the blinds open so they can enjoy night-time views of the city lights.
The hotel said it was aware of the issue and that it would be pointed out to guests. “In some rooms, due to the unique shape of the Shard, guests may be able to glimpse into a neighbour’s room,” said Darren Gearing, the hotel general manager. “For this, blinds are available for guest privacy.”
The Shard is not alone among the new crop of London skyscrapers to have humiliating difficulties. The Strata tower at Elephant and Castle won Building Design magazine’s Carbuncle Cup “for services to greenwash” because the three huge wind turbines on its roof rarely appear to turn.
Last September, 20 Fenchurch Street (known as the “Walkie Talkie”) hit the headlines when sunlight focused by its glazed concave façade melted parts of a car parked below, prompting it to be nicknamed the Walkie Scorchie.