Architects Gensler have proposed an innovative floating solution for the challenge of refurbishing the Houses of Parliament.
Their scheme, nicknamed Project Poseidon, would create a temporary floating parliament building to be accommodate MPs while their existing facilities are repaired and upgraded. It could save over £1.8 billion, compared with some alternative proposals under consideration, says the company.
Recent months have seen the revelation that the current Houses of Parliment building is in dire need of major repairs, as well as an overdue upgrade to facilities. The Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster declared that the “masterpiece of Victorian and medieval architecture and engineering, faces an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore.”
A 2015 study by Deloitte suggested the makeover was becoming increasingly critical. It said that providing temporary accommodation, were the whole government to decant, could cost up to £4 billion, while six years of work were carried out. The refit itself was then estimated at around £4 billion, and their report also warned that, were the MPs not to decant, then works could take far longer and cost much more.
“It is a big decision,” said Tina Stowell, co-leader of the committee.”It is lots of money. But it is also an opportunity to preserve something that is really important to us as a nation and our identity.” When the committee’s report was published in September, it declined to confirm the Deloitte cost estimates, nor provide its own, saying a budget would need to be worked out.
“The concept provides a simple solution to what is a very complex problem,” said Gensler managing director Ian Mulcahey. “The challenge has been to find a location that enables all the key components of Parliament to be located together in close proximity to the wider Government estate in Whitehall. The objective has been to minimise disruption and reduce the cost of the refurbishment to the taxpayer. The Palace of Westminster is one of the most important symbols of democracy in the world. This scheme provides a powerful expression of continuity and reinforces the UK’s world-leading creative expertise.”
Gensler’s proposal is for a 250 metre long floating structure, which would be moored alongside the existing Members’ terrace at the Palace of Westminster. The 8,600 sq metre space would be roofed by an elegant timber framed structure which, say Gensler, takes its inspiration from the hammer beam design of the roof of Westminster Hall. The scheme could be built in British shipyards within three years, they add.
The project could also deliver a legacy, said Gensler’s Duncan Swinhoe: “This not only provides a fitting short-term solution to the relocation issue it also provides some exciting long-term opportunities. Once the refurbishment of the Palace is complete, the modular structure could be relocated and adapted to provide a permanent legacy such as a Museum for Democracy or alternatively a new parliament for an emerging overseas democracy.”
While the costs and proposals – such as they exist – have been much reported, parliamentarians have waded in with their views. Conservative MP John Redwood commented: “I believe that the recommendation to move parliament offsite for the duration of the works is a wholly unacceptable and disproportionate proposal. In my view, there are sufficient access routes to key areas of the palace to allow for other sections of the building to be sealed off, while the works take place.”
And fellow Tory MP Jesse Norman had suggestions to modernise the building: “The courtyards should be glassed over, allowing natural light to shine through, and the new space used productively. Among other things, there is a severe lack of public spaces in the palace – that is why the Portcullis House atrium is so valuable.”
LPA Perspective: Three cheers to Gensler for coming up with an innovative proposal that cuts through all the talk of billions to be spent, and the speculation on where MPs could safely decant to.
This suggestion not only allows for MPs to continue to use the Palace of Westminster, while the phased works take place, it also ensures they continue to operate from the famed seat of government. And it saves a substantial amount of money, compared with the alternatives being discussed. Let’s hope it gets serious consideration.
Gensler will be hoping the concept gets a better hearing than its previous river outing, the London River Park. This series of floating pontoons, aiming to be a jolly linear park during the 2012 Olympics, was criticised by CABE, among others, while those running river traffic fretted it would get in the way. Expect depth charges to once again be at the ready.