The UK Houses of Parliament is, of course, housed in the instantly-recognisable Palace of Westminster. This Victorian Gothic fantasy was designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin.
With inadequate maintenance for many decades, this edifice has descended into a complete state of disrepair. According to a report in The Guardian, even the most optimistic estimate is that renovation works would cost £7bn to £13bn and take 12 to 20 years. Moreover, this month, reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) was found in the building, posing further safety risks. It seems like the decisions on how to undertake the renovation and how to fund it are not being made quickly enough.
I was privileged to visit Foster + Partners offices this weekend as part of September Open House. Looking at the seductive array of models, videos and images, I was drawn to their fascinating models for a temporary Parliament building. As proposed in 2020, this amorphous steel and glass structure would envelope four levels of interior space, including the House of Commons, House of Lords and offices for the 650 MPs. At the time, the projected cost was £300m. This futuristic structure would be located close to the existing parliament, on Horse Guards Parade, overlooking St James's Park. As expected from Foster, it's a simple and elegant solution.
Is it now time to reconsider this proposal? It makes perfect sense to showcase a democracy ready for the challenges of the mid 21st Century within an iconic and functional grand project by Britain's most successful living architect.
What a great statement to indicate that our parliament is not stuck in the past. But let's build it to last. Who knows, the British public and even our government might (grudgingly) learn to love it.
Seeing Architecture offers architectural walking tours in London. Several of our walks include projects by Foster + Partners.