Conference 1 Introduction and Welcoming Address – Presentation by David Mulder, XML ARCHITECTS
Session: Rhythms of Space and Time
Session: A Contemporary Parliament in a Historical Building
Session: Gendered Space and Agency
Session: The Material Culture of Parliaments
Session: Political Transitions and Paradoxical Power
Session: Mediated Parliament and Digital Interactions
Presentation by Jonas Staal, STUDIO JONAS STAAL – Round Table: David Mulder, XML ARCHITECTS + Jonas Staal, STUDIO JONAS STAAL
The Scene and its Backstage; the Parliament as a Theatre: The evolution of the Political Spaces of the Quebec Parliament

François Dufaux
Associate Professor
Université Laval

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.

A House in Parliament: The Official Residence of the Auditor and Speaker, 1572-1834
The Speaker’s House Westminster: River front, Monochrome line engraving by W. Radclyffe after John Preston Neale, © Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 1913.

Murray Tremellen
PhD Candidate Department of History of Art
University of York

Kirsty Wright
PhD Student in History
University of York

In 1610 Sir John Bingley wrote to the mayor and burgesses of Chester with the claim that he was the best candidate for their parliamentary seat due to his ‘nere habitation and dwelling to the Parliament howse [which] ministereth a greater Conveniency… and readines at hand, then to any more remote.’ The proximity he boasted of was afforded by his official residence as Auditor of the Exchequer of Receipt, a house cobbled together from the former buildings of St Stephen’s College in the Palace of Westminster. The house’s medieval walls were adapted by successive occupants, first the Auditors and later the Speakers, as they carved out spaces to facilitate their official role and project their social status. Examination of the house’s function and architectural development helps to illuminate the fluidity of politics in the palace and the changing position of the Auditors and Speakers in relation to the government.

This paper will explore parliamentary buildings as inherited space, through an examination of the changing function and style of the house at St Stephen’s. The first half addresses the life of the house in the hands of the Exchequer officials. Following the dissolution of St Stephen’s College in 1549, its chapel became the first permanent meeting place of the House of Commons. Its re-use as parliamentary space has been charted through the work of the St Stephen’s Chapel project. However, the chapel was but one part of the broader collegiate infrastructure in the palace that included a two-storey cloister, bell tower and range of vicars’ houses. In 1572 these collegiate buildings were granted to the officers of the Exchequer of Receipt and were adapted, at great public expense, to form opulent living quarters and office space. The first part of this paper examines the initial adaptation and use of the buildings as the Auditors carved out private space for themselves and the value of the site as its ownership was contested.

The second half of the paper will turn to questions of style, as we consider the alterations made to the house following its appropriation, in 1794, for the Speaker of the House of Commons. This was the first time that the Speaker had been granted an official residence, and it marked an important advance in the dignity and status of his role. Like the Auditors before them, however, successive Speakers struggled to adapt the medieval and Tudor structures of the house to suit their social and political aspirations at the turn of the 19th century. In a bid to grasp this nettle, Speaker Charles Abbot (in office 1802-17) commissioned James Wyatt, the leading architect of the day, to comprehensively rebuild the house in castellated Gothic style. The Speaker’s House marks one of the earliest uses of revived Gothic for a significant political building in Britain. Its use was partly a reflection of changing fashions, but it also made a powerful statement of Abbot’s vision for the Speakership. Wyatt’s pseudo-medieval architecture helped Abbot to craft a myth of tradition and permanence around the Speaker’s role. This helped him to consolidate his political position and, ultimately, enabled the Speakers to maintain possession of the house which the Auditors had lost.

This paper charts the decline of the Exchequer, one of England’s most important medieval institutions, and the rise of the Speaker, who remains an integral part of modern parliamentary life. The house adjoining St. Stephen’s Chapel played a key role in shaping both institutions, yet its very existence has now been all but forgotten. This paper is a first step to bring the house back into the spotlight, and finally subject it to the critical scrutiny it deserves.