Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Theaters of Democracy

In October 1943, parliament met to debate the question of how the heavily bomb-damaged Palace of Westminster should be restored. With Winston Churchill's approval, they agreed to retain its adversarial rectangular pattern instead of changing to a semi-circular or horse-shoe design favoured by some legislative assemblies. Churchill insisted that the shape of the old Chamber was responsible for the two-party system, which is the essence of British parliamentary democracy. It was at this debate that he famously noted: 'we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.'

Today a parliamentary commission is once again considering options for the urgent restoration of the Palace of Westminster. The scenarios include a proposal that MP’s decamp from the building for the 11 years of a £3.5 billion building project. If they remain in place, the project will be longer and costlier still.

At this crucial moment in the Houses of Parliament’s history, the Architecture Foundation is staging a special event at Westminster, at which panellists will address the question of whether the architecture of Pugin and Barry’s building remains fit for a twenty-first century democracy. In particular, they will ask how the imminent building works could enable a radical reinvention both of parliament’s built form and its democratic procedures.

Speakers include David Mulder and Max Cohen de Lara, of the Amsterdam-based XML Architects, whose research into the architecture of the world’s parliament buildings featured in the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and is soon to be published in the book “Parliament”. They will be joined by Pugin’s biographer, Rosemary Hill, who will talk about the debates that led to the establishment of the Palace of Westminster in its present form and by Michael Deacon, the parliamentary sketchwriter of The Daily Telegraph, who will offer an insider’s view of the building’s successes and failures.

26 January
Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, London