It can be argued that buildings define a people. If Egypt has the pyramids and France has the Palace of Versailles then England has the Palace of Westminster. But as similar as these magnificent structures can be said to be culturally then there is a difference between the first two and Westminster. That being that Westminster is the only one to receive regular use and despite the massive cultural credit that we give it, does it properly serve its purpose. As the image above demonstrates of the 650 MP’s that are elected to these prestigious positions, at one time only 427 of them can be seated.
Following the Second World War Churchill rightly proclaimed that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards out buildings shape us” but this shaping process must be called into question when the buildings can no longer properly serve their purpose. If on a bus or a train only two thirds of the people on board can actually sit down most people would admit that there was a problem, but when it’s one of our most culturally important buildings that serves as the work place of the government of our country, then people seem wilfully blind of the issue.
On the side for tradition and cultural significance Churchill’s words still ring loudly but assuming a transition to a modern building Westminster palace could still be used for events like the Queen’s speech. It would also mean it wouldn’t be damaged as much by tourists and people at work which would allow us to properly completely repair its incredible design and interior.
On the side for modernisation is the argument that the building is no longer fit for purpose, with massive needs for repairs, and that the prestige of British government would receive a boost from a modern building. Why stand up and go to a corridor for a head count when you can just press a button which would speed up proceedings and transparency efforts.
It seems therefore that we can drag this building on life support for however many years but sooner or later this building will effectively rot beyond all use and we can wait until this happens, the Mail will happily cover the front page with a full page of the collapsed building, or we can act now and give the old girl the dignity she deserves.
If our buildings truly shape us then, while remembering the lessons of the past, we must move forward into the new century and the new world unencumbered by the chains that pull us backwards for no other reason than tradition.