Parliaments are theatres; their architecture provides a stage for political choices to be expressed and decisions to be voted, but they also house backstage spaces where acts are negotiated and the roles and lines are assigned between members, lobbies and citizens.
The Canadian political system is heir to the British parliamentary tradition, and the architecture of parliaments, the federal as well as those of the provinces, adopted several spatial characteristics borrowed from the former imperial model. But at the same time, the post-war modernization, the democratic ideals of the 1960s and the security concerns of the 21th century have modified these places, in their urban context and their internal planning.
An analysis of the Quebec parliament, at the urban and architectural scales, tells the evolution this theatre and the role of space. The urban position oscillated between centrality and isolation in a context of social and ethnic tensions. Access to the assembly room moves away from the citizens as the power became more responsible. The layout of MPs’ desks reflects a spatial segregation between government and the opposition according to custom in Westminster. Yet 80% of laws are passed unanimously reflecting the essential role of parliamentary committees, treated as secondary technical spaces, dramatized by a new public entrance completed in 2019.
The original architectural design of the building remains a curious compromise between British practices and French references, reflecting the contradictions of the colonial condition. The subsequent changes, timely following a 25 year or so cycle, bear witness to the evolution in government responsibilities, in particular with the post-war welfare state. These metamorphoses play on representation and make up a social logic of space, while defining place for meeting and exclusion; the essence of parliamentarism.
This presentation proposes to depict the analysis of the different spatial contexts combining different methods from spatial configuration with space syntax, Jan Gehl’s observatory methods and more conventional morphological examinations. While the local context appears peripherical to the European one, western democracies are engaged with similar discourse and concerns, and the two centuries old multicultural experience, including the political stability and the spatial contradictions provide clues for a better understanding of the architecture of politics. Scene and backstage are recurring spatial strategies coexisting at different scales; the balance encountered reflects the weight of the written procedures and the room for improvisation which define political power and initiatives.