There aren’t many people who could have commandeered the View From the Shard for a private party weeks before it opened to the public, but William Matthews is a special case, and last Wednesday he got the place to himself and his guests: I was honoured to be one of them, on a clear evening with a great view.
Matthews is Renzo Piano’s project architect for the building. Based in Piano’s Paris office for nearly two decades, and involved with the Shard project for a lot of that time, Matthews is now taking the opportunity to set up on his own and will move with his family to London. The practice, which will be in the architectural hotspot of Clerkenwell, isn’t quite up and running yet, he says – there’s a few months’ work still to do finishing off the Shard, not least the restaurant levels half way up – but after that it will be time for him to establish his own voice.
Such is the ethos of the Piano approach, he says, that he can instinctively design buildings in the master’s manner. “But what would I do, and how would I do it, on my own?” Now’s the time for him to find out. He’s not going the large-scale commercial route of starting off with a bang and recruiting a raft of staff, though doubtless with his contacts (the Shard’s developer, Irvine Sellar, was at the party) he could. Instead he says he will be feeling his way, starting small. He has a commission for a house near the White Cliffs of Dover. “I won’t make any money on it,” he cheerfully forecasts. But he will, I suspect, make plenty of friends. Best wishes, then, to the fledgling practice of William Matthews Associates. When people ask him what he does, all he has to do is point out of the window.