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London's tallest building takes shape amid recession fears

Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Workers wait to enter the Shard, an under-construction high-rise building, in front of a picture, background, showing the Shard over the London skyline, on Jan. 17, 2012.

LONDON – Wherever you go in this city these days, it's hard to avoid the Shard. In a city with a mostly low-rise skyline, the 72-floor, 1,016 foot-tall building stands in stark relief, offering a handy navigational aide if you should stray from familiar paths. 

The Associated Press reports today on the mixed prospects for architect Renzo Piano's ambitious project. Though it is not expected to open until 2013, the Shard is already the tallest building in the European Union (In the continent as a whole, it is eclipsed by Moscow's Mercury City Tower).

Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

The Shard, seen under construction on Jan. 17, 2012, is the tallest building in the European Union and looks like a slice of glass balanced on the edge of the financial district.

The $2.34 billion Shard has been bankrolled by Qatari investors in what one expert in Middle Eastern politics described as a form of "soft diplomacy" on the part of the Gulf state. 

In addition to offices, restaurants and a posh hotel, the building will house some of London's fanciest apartments, two of which are said to have been reserved for members of Qatar's royal family

A report by Barclays Capital published this month found an unhealthy correlation between the construction of skyscrapers and an impending financial crisis, concluding that ambitious building projects often open just as the economy declines.

Will London 2013 find itself added to a list that includes New York 1930, Chicago 1974, Kuala Lumpur 1997 and Dubai 2010? With figures out this week showing the British economy moving back into negative territory, that seems a decent wager.


Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

A view of the Shard on Dec. 5, 2011, towering over other high-rise buildings including Norman Foster's Gherkin, right.