NTU Architecture Subject Group

MA Year 2


Architecture is a small city, and the city is a big building

Aldo Rossi, Architecture of the City

Our theme this year on designing for democracy will be further explored in the Design Thesis by examining the current proposals to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a Senate for the Regions. This would be a new type of parliamentary typology for the UK. The brief takes the nascent proposals by the main opposition parties and others and looks to better understand the programmatic and locational possibilities of a new second chamber. The following two quotes put this idea into more context and further reading can be found at the end of the brief.

Reforming the London dominated Second Chamber of the House of Lords is a rare issue that is highly popular across all parties. 71% of the UK public back an overhaul of the House of Lords, research showed this year. The issue cuts across Britain’s divides, with an overhaul backed by a majority of those who voted Conservative or Labour in the 2019 general election, and those who voted Leave or Remain in the EU referendum. As well as ‘levelling up’ representation – with peers elected using a fair, proportional voting system – a genuinely accountable second chamber could establish a guaranteed voice for the regions of the UK, to speak as one, to scrutinise legislation and our constitutional settlement with clear communities in mind. The UK remains one of the most centralised countries in Europe – and the archaic, power-hoarding set-up in Westminster has a big role to play in why this is. (John Morgan, Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research & Data July 2022). Would we be better governed – with greater wisdom, moderation, and inclusion – if we had another chamber, into which hot legislative issues could be poured to cool? Would a few independent-minded senators, alongside party-political MPs, help to better hold the government to account, and ensure a range of views are represented? Or would a second chamber be an unnecessary complication and expense, with few benefits that could not be achieved in other ways? It is worth noting that a second chamber is not a necessary feature of a functioning democratic system. What’s important is not the number of chambers, but that certain functions are performed: review, scrutiny, bringing expertise to bear, representing diversity and protecting the constitutional order against majoritarian abuses of power. (Dr Elliot Bulmer, The National August 2019).

The proposals put forward a new Senate of the Regions, the inference on many of the articles is that this is an opportunity to locate a seat of power and influence outside London. Cities in the Midlands and the North are frequently mentioned. In addition, there are calls to introduce bicameral arrangements of Senates for each of the countries making up the UK, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. In choosing our sites we can consider all of these possibilities.

Our theme in designing a new democratic institution aims to propose an alternative reading of the contemporary tendency to find a monumentalism in this type of architectural brief. The interest is in finding a more appropriate model for UK cities that have resisted many attempts at formal redevelopment and have at their heart a strong tendency to re-appropriate and accumulate programmes into its existing building stock. Our project is to develop proposals for a large cultural building in a UK city of our choosing. Our chosen type is a senate and our line of enquiry in the brief will pose three questions:

  • What does the architectural presence of a Senate offer to the city as a means of civic and cultural expression?
  • How does the adjusted typology of a Senate differ from our understanding of parliamentary buildings?
  • Can more extreme accessibility and uses be combined with a Senate and still respect the technical requirements?

Everything not saved will be lost.

Nintendo quit screen

Re-use and appropriation are strongly encouraged, depending on the location you choose. The rejection of iconicity and tectonic hierarchy must be matched by reasoned methodology.

The more speculative strand of our programmatic research will focus on the idea of designing democratic buildings to respond to a greater variety of users.

A Senate of the Regions must also be of the people and provide REPRESENTATION TO THE UN-RERESENTED. This means all groups, individuals, and points of view. How can a building that requires a great deal of security become welcoming and engage with its constituents?

As ongoing research, we are interested in using a (mild) mannerist stance to attempt to rediscover a meaningful expressive dialogue between the built environment and its cultural and societal context. History and ornament are a key part of this dialogue and revivalist tendencies are not discouraged. We want to further explore these notions by examining how digital drawing and production methods can make up for the loss of craft.

Kenneth Fraser
Technical Tutor
Mick Brundel