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Renzo Piano’s Shard

Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the Shard, 2009–, London, March 2011. Photo: Nic Lehoux.

THE ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIAN Manfredo Tafuri famously claimed that “no better way exists of grasping what the American skyscraper is not than by studying how European culture has attempted to assimilate and translate [the skyscraper] into its own terms.” For him, the problem with adaptations of the skyscraper in Germany, France, the former Soviet Union, and the UK was that all operated under the erroneous assumption that the skyscraper was “architecture.” On the contrary, wrote Tafuri, skyscrapers were “real live ‘bombs’ with chain effects, destined to explode the entire real estate market.” They were an exemplar of capitalism at its limits, “an instrument—and no longer an ‘expression’—of economic policy.”

It isn’t necessary to share Tafuri’s relentless skepticism to see how European skyscrapers have had to struggle to convince, ever since the first efforts rose from their

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