Parliamentary Chambers

Parliamentary Chambers, by Ana Filipovic, 2012, within Cultures of Assembly, Architecture + Critical Spatial Practice, Städelschule Frankfurt:

‘The word parliament derives from the French “parlement”—the act of speaking, the discussion. The chamber in which parliamentary assemblies meet is therefore a spatial setting for that very discussion. The comprehension of the nature of this discussion should hence inform the architectural design.

The spatial organization of formal assemblies has not substantially changed much from Athenian assembly to the modern concept of prime ministerial government that goes back to the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800) and The Parliamentary System in Sweden (1721–1772) that coincided with each other. Classical democracy not only influenced the formation of later constitutions, it also created an architectural legacy which has dominated both the form and style of parliament buildings to the present day. [Sudjic, Deyan, “Architecture And Democracy”, Laurence King Publishing, 1992]

The most appropriate form remained to be hemicycle—semicircular, or horseshoe shaped, debating chamber (plenary chamber), where members sit to discuss and pass legislation.

The circular shape is one, which was primarily designed to encourage the politics of consensus among political parties rather than confrontation. The design is used in most European countries (and hence was adopted by the European Parliament) and the United States. The equality in its shape—the equal distance from the speaker, for example—is being used whenever democratic dialogue is anticipated. In contrast, the Westminster system, in which the government and opposition parties face each other on opposing sets of benches, points at an interesting potential: the exploration and exacerbation of spatial confrontation and conflict as a form of agonistic ground condition. This research questions the seemingly causal relationship between the spaces of parliamentary chambers and the system they represent.’

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