Foster + Partners reveals pop-up glass dome as potential temporary home for British Parliament

Crystal Palace Redux

Foster + Partners reveals pop-up glass dome as potential temporary home for British Parliament

Illustration of Norman Foster’s proposed temporary home for Parliament at St. James’s Park. (Courtesy Foster + Partners)

In an appealing nod to the ephemeral Crystal Palace exhibition halls that were all the rage in London and beyond in the mid-and late-19th century, Foster + Partners has revealed a similarly grand, glass-clad vision for what would serve as the temporary home for the House of Commons, one of the two houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom, while the ailing (not to mention catastrophic fire-prone) Palace of Westminster undergoes extensive and time-intensive renovations.

The glass-domed pop-up structure would be constructed—and, eventually, deconstructed when the time comes and then potentially erected again elsewhere a la London’s own dearly departed Victorian-era Crystal Palace—at the Horse Grounds Parade, an oft-redundant public square a stone’s throw from the Palace of Westminster in St. James’s Park. Per The Sunday Times, which first shared news of the proposed design, the structure would cost just north of $390 million—roughly half the budget allocated for the project. The Commons chamber would be fully recreated within the dome so that MPs feel right at home during the displacement, which is slated to kick off in 2025 and last as long as six years. The structure, sheathed in bullet- and bomb-proof steel and glass, would also include committee rooms, 650 MP offices, a dining facility, and public areas including an expansive roof garden. As noted by Building Design, some have likened the proposed construction to a “giant jelly mould.”

As reported by the Times, Lord Norman Foster (no stranger to working with parliamentary buildings, temporary or otherwise) and property developer Sir John Ritblat first pitched the idea for a soaring, semi-transparent glass edifice as temporary digs for Parliament in 2017. The idea was ultimately abandoned due to security concerns. But apparently a change of heart has taken hold among the powers that be given that Foster and Ritblat were asked just last month to resubmit their plans for further consideration.

“It showcases what we can produce as a nation,” Foster told the Times. “Everyone regards the relocation of parliament as a huge problem, but it also presents an incredible opportunity and I can’t see any downsides to our proposal.”

Erecting a temporary home for Parliament is positioned as an under-review alternative that involves moving MPs to other governmental facilities during the duration of the repair work at the Palace of Westminster. That scheme, however, has since been subject to scrutiny due to, among other things, the coronavirus pandemic. Keeping MPs closer to home in a pop-up structure in lieu of dramatically overhauling an existing building, namely Richmond House in Whitehall, is being pitched as a more economically viable option that could greatly accelerate the complex relocation and renovation process. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has even floated the idea of temporarily moving Parliament out of London altogether to York, in the north of England, while work is underway at the U.K. government’s current crumbling home.

Per Foster and Ritblat, their proposed structure could be erected and made operational within 28 months, allowing MPs to start moving in as soon as 2023. While Foster and Ritblat’s previous submission envisioned a facility that would accommodate both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, this latest iteration does not appear to include the House of Lords.

Queen Elizabeth II would ultimately need to sign off on any proposed plans for the Horse Grounds Parade as its where the Trooping the Colour ceremony is held each June in observance of Her Majesty’s birthday.

“We think that, rather than a costly embarrassment, there is the potential here to create a uniquely great British solution that will enable MPs to decant from the Palace of Westminster more than 36 months earlier,” the Times reported Foster and Ritblat’s resubmitted plan as reading. “The sustainable solution we propose will not leave any permanent historic scars on the fabric of London and could be relocated and reused anywhere.”