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Architects unveil innovative design for temporary UK parliament in London

Details of a floating temporary Houses of Parliament in London which would be used to while the main historic Palace of Westminster undergoes urgent repairs has been unveiled.

The building on the River Thames where the British Parliament is based is in need of refurbishment but where to house all the offices and the hundreds of people who work their everyday as well as the two main debating chambers is a headache.

Now international architecture, design and planning firm Gensler has revealed its radical concept for a temporary Houses of Parliament on the river that would allow business as usual while the long overdue refurbishment works were carried out on the main building.

The internal architecture mirrors familiar features from the Palace of Westminster and is inspired by the magnificent hammer beam roof of Westminster Hall. The two iconic chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords would be replicated to the same dimensions to ensure familiarity with the aim of reducing disruption to MPs and Peers.

The Royal Gallery and Central Lobby, which play an important role in parliamentary traditions including state receptions and ceremonies, would also be reproduced in the temporary structure.

Built on a series of steel platforms, the building would be a dramatic high tech wooden framed structure covering 8,600 square metres. A light trough around the base of the chambers would create a glow to illuminate the building at night and the space between the outer bubble and inner box, known as the Inner Deck would be filled with plants.

Skylights would ensure the chambers are bathed in daylight whilst maintaining the privacy and safety of members and a basalt stone walkway would run between the structure’s exterior and the chambers clad in white painted metal panels that are both cost effective and understated.

Overall the inside of each chamber would be pared down to make the space as effective and flexible as possible. In order to keep the space column free, the mezzanine would be hung with steel tension rods from clear space beams above. Light coves between the edge of the mezzanine and the perimeter wall would emphasise the ethereal quality of the space and create visual relief. Perforated wood panels with acoustic backing would provide sound absorption and will be finished in semi-gloss white lacquer to further create the impression of space and airiness.

The architects also said that clean and simple interiors would use the same colour palette as Parliament’s historic home so there would be traditional for the House of Commons and red for the House of Lords with the familiar leather benches central to the design.

‘It is important that a design is true to the iconic interiors that people are so familiar with to ensure our concept is still recognisable as Parliament, but we wanted to give it a modern twist,’ said Philippe Paré, design principal at Gensler.

‘Building a new structure from the ground up creates an opportunity to incorporate workplace design principles that are proven to improve productivity, well-being and collaboration. We have tried to maximise access to natural light, provided areas of planting to increase oxygenation and leverage the Inner Deck as place where impromptu interaction and dialogue can occur,’ he explained.

‘We are conscious that any solution enabling a parliamentary decant will use public funds, so we have focused on restraint and efficiency. We have also been sensitive to the Palace of Westminster, so that our solution continues to be recognisable as Parliament and to ensure the space is easy for MPs and Peers to adapt to and use. The simplicity of the interiors also gives the structure flexibility, which will be important for legacy use,’ he added.

The firm believes that such a modular structure located on the River Thames could provide a flexible and secure home that would save the British taxpayer more than £1.8 billion, and allows the urgent repair works to proceed. It could be built in less than three years in shipyards across the UK and floated along the Thames to be secured and assembled on the river some 10 metres from the Palace of Westminster.

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.