Nowadays when recycling is becoming the norm, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the studio Foster+Partners has been thinking about a reusable solution for the temporary building that will host the British parliament. According to the newspaper The Times, the assignment entrusted to this studio of architects and its developer John Ritblat, was made as part of a review of the overall costs for the restoration of Westminster Palace.
This structure designed as an alternative to the proposal presented by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects (AHMM) for the renovation of the Richmond House will host the British parliament for about 7 years. To preserve the tradition, the proposal presented by Foster+Partners gives a nod to the short-lived exhibition halls of the Crystal Palace, the famous venue that hosted the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851,whose promoter was the husband of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert.
With a state-of-the-art approach, the provisional headquarters that would be located about 400 meters from Westminster Palace will consist of a 151-meters-long glass-coated building with a cost of $390 million. The structure, designed to be dismantled and reused, would have four floors that will include 650 offices, as well as detailed replicas of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and other important interior spaces.
Renovating vs. innovating: the big debate
The British are jealous about their history and everything surrounding it, so no one is surprised regarding the investment of a large sum of money in the renovation of Westminster Palace (more than $5 billion). The palace, which dates back to the 19th century, will close its doors in 2025 to allow its 1,100 rooms to undergo a restoration performed by the BDP studio.
While the proposal of Foster+Partners revolves around what’s reusable and, as already said, is a more economical alternative than the remodeling of Richmond House, a government building near Whitehall, the discussions about it continue to be present. The Times states that, Rab Bennetts, co-founder of the architecture firm Bennetts Associates, is against it and expressed on Twitter his doubts about the “sustainability” of the structure.
“The first rule of sustainability is to reuse and adapt an existing building; even more so if the structure is intended for short-term use. The adaptation of Richmond House in Whitehall is the obvious and responsible solution.”
To defend its project Norman Foster pointed out to the Times that the structure, which could be reused when the restoration is completed, not only “saves a lot of money and time and is reusable, “but also “shows what Britain can produce as a nation.”
“Everyone sees the relocation of the parliament as a big problem, but it also presents an incredible opportunity and I see no drawbacks in our proposal. Plus, Horse Guards would be next to 10th and 11th streets of Downing Street, which is safer than Richmond House” he emphasized.
Since the British parliament announced its decision to relocate temporarily, the proposals have multiplied. Aside from the proposal of Foster+Partners, it stands out the project of the American studio Gensler that presented a floating structure similar to a bubble that would be built next to Westminster Palace on the River Thames.
The proposal of Gensler, which dates back to 2016, is significantly less expensive than the one presented by Foster+Partners ($211 million) and could also be relocated to be used elsewhere once the remodeling work is completed. It’s worth mentioning that the controversial structure developed by John Ritblat is an update to what this British study presented in 2017.
Although nothing is decided yet, since the COVID has the undivided attention of Britain and the whole world, Foster+Partners may have more competition. So, we’ll have to wait to know how reusable, bubbly or floating the provisional headquarters of the British parliament can be.