ARCHITECTURE - Gigantesque et controversé éclat de verre de 310 m, le Shard, plus haut gratte-ciel d'Europe, a été inauguré jeudi à Londres, prêt à temps pour rayonner lors des Jeux olympiques qui commencent dans trois semaines.

Le prince Andrew, l'un des trois fils de la reine Elizabeth II, et le premier ministre du Qatar, Hamad ben Jassem Al-Thani, dont le pays a financé le gratte-ciel, ont participé à son ouverture officielle dans l'après-midi.

Mais le clou des festivités pour célébrer la nouvelle star du paysage londonien, oeuvre de l'architecte italien Renzo Piano, était attendu après la tombée de la nuit: un spectacle de lumières, projetées sur le gratte-ciel et sur les grands monuments de la capitale britannique, est prévu avec la participation du London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Douze ans après le lancement du projet, cet événement marque l'achèvement de la partie extérieure du gratte-ciel, à l'intérieur duquel les travaux continueront jusqu'en 2013. Le Shard devient ainsi le plus haut gratte-ciel d'Europe, tout en restant loin derrière la plus haute du monde, Burj Khalifa à Dubaï, qui culmine à 828 mètres.

Comme l'Empire State Building

Avec sa silhouette effilée, ses 95 étages et son observatoire offrant au public une vue panoramique à 360°, il promet de devenir l'une des attractions touristiques de Londres, qui s'apprête à accueillir deux millions de visiteurs à l'occasion des JO. Ses promoteurs ambitionnent d'en faire un emblème de Londres "comme l'Empire State Building l'est à New York".

Pour Ken Livingstone, qui était maire lorsque le projet a été lancé, le Shard va "définir Londres". "A la différence de ce qui se passe pour de nombreuses autres tours, les Londoniens auront accès à celle-ci", a argué le travailliste jeudi sur la BBC.

Le prince Andrew a quant à lui estimé que le gratte-ciel allait "dynamiser" le quartier du sud de la Tamise où il est installé.

Le Shard est selon les termes de Renzo Piano une "petite ville verticale" de 12.000 personnes, avec à terme un hôtel cinq étoiles, des restaurants de luxe, des bureaux et des commerces.

Une dizaine d'appartements

Mais pour y vivre, il faudra un solide compte en banque car la dizaine d'appartements avec une vue imprenable situés entre le 53e et le 65e étages -les plus hauts du marché britannique- se vendraient jusqu'à 50 millions de livres (62 millions d'euros), selon les chiffres qui circulent dans les médias britanniques.

Le gratte-ciel ouvrira ses portes aux touristes en février 2013 et plus de 17 500 personnes se sont déjà inscrites sur l'internet pour le visiter.

La tour, qui réfléchit le capricieux ciel londonien sur ses facettes de verre, est sortie de terre en 2009, poussant ensuite comme un champignon. Mais ce projet de 450 millions de livres, financé à 95% par le Qatar, a aussi suscité de vives critiques.

Les défenseurs du patrimoine, notamment l'association English Heritage, lui reprochent "d'être au mauvais endroit" et de porter atteinte aux vues protégées sur la cathédrale Saint-Paul ou le Parlement. Même l'Unesco s'en est mêlée, jugeant qu'il nuisait à "l'intégrité visuelle" de la Tour de Londres, inscrite à son patrimoine mondial.

Renzo Piano, 74 ans, qui a aussi conçu le Centre Pompidou à Paris, balaie les critiques entourant son gratte-ciel. "Les nouveaux bâtiments ont toujours du mal à se faire accepter, mais Saint-Paul était moderne à son époque", rappelait-il en février.

La "Skyline" de Londres compte déjà nombre d'imposants gratte-ciels, comme l'incontournable Gherkin (cornichon), et cinq autres sont actuellement en construction. Ce qui vaut à la ville une réputation d'audace architecturale comparée à des capitales comme Paris, où la hauteur est limitée.


Découvrez dans le diaporama ci-dessous quelques images de l'inauguration du Shard, réalisé par nos confrères du HuffPost UK

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  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Laser lights shine from The Shard over Tower Bridge on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's highest building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, stands at 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank is formally inaugurated this evening at 10pm with a laser show that will also be streamed live on the internet. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Lasers light up the night sky from the

    Lasers light up the night sky from the Shard building during its inauguration in central London, on July 5, 2012. Europe's tallest skyscraper the Shard was inaugurated in a dazzling sound and light show befitting its status as the capital's brashest and most controversial building. The Shard's inauguration marks the completion of the exterior of the building, located on the south bank of the River Thames at London Bridge, while work on the inside is expected to continue into 2013. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW COWIE (Photo credit should read Andrew Cowie/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Lasers light up the night sky from the

    Lasers light up the night sky from the Shard building during its inauguration in central London, on July 5, 2012. Europe's tallest skyscraper the Shard was inaugurated in a dazzling sound and light show befitting its status as the capital's brashest and most controversial building. The Shard's inauguration marks the completion of the exterior of the building, located on the south bank of the River Thames at London Bridge, while work on the inside is expected to continue into 2013. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW COWIE (Photo credit should read Andrew Cowie/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Lasers light up the night sky from the

    Lasers light up the night sky from the Shard building during its inauguration in central London, on July 5, 2012. Europe's tallest skyscraper the Shard was inaugurated in a dazzling sound and light show befitting its status as the capital's brashest and most controversial building. The Shard's inauguration marks the completion of the exterior of the building, located on the south bank of the River Thames at London Bridge, while work on the inside is expected to continue into 2013. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW COWIE (Photo credit should read Andrew Cowie/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Lasers light up the night sky from the

    Lasers light up the night sky from the Shard building during its inauguration in central London, on July 5, 2012. Europe's tallest skyscraper the Shard was inaugurated in a dazzling sound and light show befitting its status as the capital's brashest and most controversial building. The Shard's inauguration marks the completion of the exterior of the building, located on the south bank of the River Thames at London Bridge, while work on the inside is expected to continue into 2013. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW COWIE (Photo credit should read Andrew Cowie/AFP/GettyImages)

  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: The Shard is illuminated against the night sky on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's tallest building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and standing 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank, was formally inaugurated this evening with a laser show that was streamed live on the Internet.

  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Crowds watch as laser lights shine from The Shard over Tower Bridge on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's highest building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, stands at 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank is formally inaugurated this evening at 10pm with a laser show that will also be streamed live on the internet. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: The Shard is seen lit up during a laser light show from Tower Millennium Pier on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's highest building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, stands at 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank is formally inaugurated this evening at 10pm with a laser show that will also be streamed live on the internet. (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: The Shard is seen lit up during a laser light show from Tower Millennium Pier on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's tallest building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, stands at 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank was formally inaugurated this evening with a laser show that was streamed live on the Internet. (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Crowds watch as laser lights shine from The Shard over Tower Bridge on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's highest building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, stands at 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank is formally inaugurated this evening at 10pm with a laser show that will also be streamed live on the internet. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: The Shard is seen lit up during a laser light show from Tower Millennium Pier on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's highest building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, stands at 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank is formally inaugurated this evening at 10pm with a laser show that will also be streamed live on the internet. (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

  • The Shard, Europe's Largest Building Is Unveiled After Completion Of It's Exterior

    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: The Shard is seen lit up during a laser light show from Tower Millennium Pier on July 5, 2012 in London, England. The European Union's highest building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, stands at 310 meters tall situated on London's Southbank is formally inaugurated this evening at 10pm with a laser show that will also be streamed live on the internet. (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    The Shard skyscraper lit up by a laser light show to celebrate the inauguration of Europe's tallest building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, seen by London's Tower Bridge.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    The Shard skyscraper lit up by a laser light show to celebrate the inauguration of Europe's tallest building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    The Shard skyscraper lit up by a laser light show to celebrate the inauguration of Europe's tallest building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    The Shard skyscraper lit up by a laser light show to celebrate the inauguration of Europe's tallest building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, seen by London's Tower Bridge.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    The Shard skyscraper lit up by a laser light show to celebrate the inauguration of Europe's tallest building, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, seen by London's Tower Bridge.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    The Shard officially celebrates its opening with an amazing light show.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    The Shard officially celebrates its opening with an amazing light show.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard Inauguration - London

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard opened

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard opened

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.

  • Shard opened

    A laser show projected from the Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, London, seen from Parliament Hill, marking the completion of the exterior of the building, with work on the inside expected to continue into 2013 and following the official inauguration of the skyscraper earlier today.