International architecture, design and planning firm Gensler has unveiled a radical concept for a temporary Houses of Parliament on the River Thames during the Palace of Westminster’s refurbishment, which is estimated to take up to six years to complete.
The proposed floating building, known as Project Poseidon, could provide a flexible and secure home that helps save the British taxpayer more than £1.8 billion, based on the House Committee’s own estimates, and allows the urgent repair works to proceed.
Gensler’s proposal accommodates all the principle components of the current Houses of Parliament within a new structure located alongside the existing Member’s terrace. The design takes inspiration from the magnificent hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall, which was commissioned by Richard II in 1393 and is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe.
The internal architecture mirrors familiar features from the Palace of Westminster. The two iconic chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords will be replicated to the same dimensions and using the same colour palette as Parliament’s historic home to ensure familiarity with the aim of reducing disruption to MPs and Peers. The Royal Gallery and Central Lobby, which play an important role in parliamentary traditions including state receptions and ceremonies, will also be reproduced in the temporary structure.
By using the River Thames, Gensler’s design creates a completely new temporary Parliament under one roof in the same world famous location in the heart of Westminster avoiding the dispersion of core parliamentary activity to multiple locations. 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. It also incorporates a number of security measures that supplement the natural defence provided by the river itself.
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. The new modular structure could 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 some 10 metres from the Palace of Westminster.
Once the refurbishment of the Palace is complete, the modular structure could be relocated and adapted to provide a permanent legacy, such as a Museum for Democracy or alternatively a new parliament for an emerging overseas democracy.