The British government have come to the realisation that the Palace of Westminster—the iconic UK Houses of Parliament designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin—is in desperate need of full-scale restoration and renovation. The decision to move ahead with the plans will be costly and inconvenient; aside from the need to repair the structure, the UK government is bracing itself for eye-watering "relocation" fees. In response to this, Gensler have proposed a temporary parliament on the banks of the River Thames.
Self-described as a "radical" concept, the proposal is intended to "reduce the cost and minimise the disruption of the comprehensive refurbishment of the Palace." Employing a modular structure to create maximum flexibility and security, the design accommodates all the principal components of the current Houses of Parliament – it maintains the relationship between both Chambers (the elected House of Commons and the unelected House of Lords), and their supporting Committee Rooms. The new modular structure could potentially 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.
An essential element of the refurbishment proposals for the House of Parliament requires total decantation of the building for an estimated six years. The challenge has been to find a suitable location within Whitehall that can accommodate Parliament in an efficient and cost effective manner. This concept offers a unique opportunity to co-locate the House of Commons and the House of Lords together with all their supporting committee rooms in a purpose built structure at the centre of the Whitehall estate.
Security has been carefully thought through. According to Gensler, "the concept overcomes some of the initial concerns about a river location by ensuring the structure does not interrupt the navigable channel along the centre of the river." They add that the proposal also incorporates a number of security measures that supplement the natural defence provided by the river itself.
The design takes inspiration from the magnificent hammerbeam roof of Westminster Hall, which was commissioned by Richard II in 1393 and is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. The 250-metre-long structure would be built on a series of steel platforms and the building above would be a dramatic, high-tech, wooden-framed structure covering 8,600 square metres, which would provide all the necessary environmental and acoustic containment.