Thesis Project: Assembly NI

Assembly NI: Politics and the City

My thesis project ‘Assembly NI: Politics and the City’ is a new parliament proposal in Belfast city centre to replace the existing parliament buildings at Stormont and embed the home of Northern Ireland politics in the Capital’s city centre. It should act as an important symbol for Northern Ireland’s forward thinking era of politics and move on from the history and stigma attached to Northern Ireland politics and Stormont Parliament Buildings.

The project is to investigate the parliament, not as an iconic tourist building on the periphery, but as a city centre function and program, particularly the public forum.

1. My thesis project coincides with my written dissertation titled ‘Twentieth Century Parliament Architecture as a Symbol of Government Power and Democracy’. I have used this dissertation toform a basis for investigation and research into theories, forms and meanings of parliament architecture. I would consider my thesis project as a testing ground for ideas and notions formed by the written dissertation.

The introduction page of my thesis project is an initial breakdown of the areas of overlapping research and associated questions. The early philosophies and historic relationship between: cities and political structure or ‘the atmospheric premise’. How do we create a premise? With each new parliament is there a remaining stigma? And if so how long does a stigma last? Is the notion of passive politics a result of lack of interest or derived from ability to control the masses into patience i.e. ‘waiting power’? Also considered is the role of mass media as the contemporary speakers green in parliament architecture, and whether mass media alone should be the only socio-political outlet for how the government is perceived to the outside world. In other words, can more social-media eliminate political propaganda? And finally, are there particular languages of architecture that denote or symbolise power and/or democracy?

2. This historic analysis shows the past relationship between the civic space and the city. Beginning with TheTemple, Tepe Gawra, Sumer, Iraq (3800BC) the governing building arrangement formed a partially enclosed civic space within the city. The Ziggurat, Ur, Messopotamia, Iraq (2100BC) however, was more exclusive, only accessed by rulers and overlooking the city with authority. The Forum, Pompeii, Italy (600BC), The Republican Rome Senate House, Rome, Italy (500BC) and The Forum Romanium, Rome, Italy (100BC) along with ancient Greek Agora, Athens, Greece (1500BC) were all civic spaces at the centre of public life, with the civic spaces used as markets, public events and meeting space accessible to all social classes as well as circulation space between the civic buildings themselves. Market Square in Krakow, Poland (1257) and Central Plaza, Zamosc, Poland (1579) highlight a period of Europe dominated by the power of the church, where The Campidoglic, Rome, Italy (1534), the civic space became a monumental and ceremonial space no longer centre of public life. The Palace of Assembly, Chandigarh, Panjab (1951) introduces the reinvented notion of the forum as an internal concourse within the modern parliament, as a space active with food halls, press and media conferences, members of government meeting the public and viewing galleries to the debate chamber as well as art and exhibition space.

3. The next studytitled: 5 Sites_5 Options looks at analysing five different territories in Belfast city and presenting them as a series of five concept projects. ‘A Glasshouse in the park’ investigates the idea of glass architecture as a tool for civic transparency proposing North Ormeau Park as a site. ‘Fresh Territories Fresh Ideas’ focuses on the new development in Belfast docks, proposing the assembly as a signature project. ‘A Link in a Civic Chain’ suggests placing the assembly on the same street as Belfast City Hall and Belfast Justice Courts buildings as a way of establishing a civic chain within the city centre. ‘Bridging the River’ considers recent attention to Belfast River Lagan which for many years of Belfast’s industrialgrowth was neglected due to industrial pollution. The final option ‘Rebuilding a territory’ was to disperse the building form over a fabric of the city centre, in decay, due to the previous demolition of buildings for a link-road proposal.

4. The site at Chichester Street Belfast was eventually chosen, it should provide an additional civic space to add to the civic entity of Chichester Street situated between Belfast City Hall’s open green space and The Justice Courts associated Pedestrian Street and seating areas. The site should also provide the Assembly with a large passive audience in a commercial/retail part of the City. The City centre site at Chichester Street should also provide the parliament with a politically neutral setting. The Assemblies location in Belfast City provides a focal point of Northern Ireland’s infrastructure making it the most accessible location in NI. Belfast also acts as a European stage due to the close proximity to the city airport. The city should act as a producer and consumer of new thoughts and ideas.

5. The top model is a study of the sites context and massing, it is critical at an early stage to model the surrounding buildings and spaces for massing studies, lighting studies as well as scale and proportion. The parameters of the site are contained within the Belfast city centre block,enclosed by Chichester Street to the South, Arthur Street to the West, Arthur Square to the North and Montgomery Street to the East. It contains a series of existing structures to be demolished.

The first concept model separates the parliament design brief into three primary ideas. The first is ‘the speakers green’; this represents the press and media facilities within the parliament as well as more social media opportunities or events within the parliament. Secondly ‘the glass box’ represents the idea of a raised public forum above and overlooking the city. The ‘MLA’s offices’ are the dense honeycomb matrix of offices, gardens and social spaces for the Members of the Legislative Assembly.

The ‘Partii Diagram’ shows the public forum as a large elevated object above the city with a hanging debate chamber, allowing visitors to observe the parliamentary debates in the context of the city.

6. The overall program was developed with a series of diagrams showing the required spaces, the size of these spaces to scale, the relationship between different spaces, public and private separation and user group separation. The principal users are: The Northern Ireland Executive (First Minister and Deputy First Minister), The MLA ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ and their staff, Assembly NI staff, official visitors, press, public, services and delivery. As the design developed, the brief diagram was edited and updated.

When studying parliament and public buildings, I sensed almost a struggle between the heavy, imposing architecture of power (i.e. Boston City Hall, Chandigarh) and the transparent, open architecture of democracy (Welsh Assembly, Busaras). I wanted to capture this struggle by creating heavy and bold geometric forms being carved away by large light, bright open public spaces. These early ‘carving’ models set the feeling for the contrasts in materiality and texture I wanted to achieve.

The Debate Chamber itself eventually became a project within a project. The debate chamber consists of the MLA’s seating around a central speaker. These MLA’s are overlooked by the public galleries. Above the speaker are the press rooms for newspaper journalists along with TV and radio broadcasting equipment with panoramic views of all 108 MLA’s. Thelighting and materiality of the debate chamber is important to subtly provide calm and respect when someone is speaking, due to the importance and relevance of the speaker in a democratic assembly . There is also a concourse overlooking the foyer to allow visitors observe the public, MLA’s and press and media separately entering and leaving the debate chamber before and after a debate.

7. A large range of size and scale models were used to develop the parliament from master planning its position within the city at 1:1000 scale to 1:200 models and context model of the overall building design. The debate chamber was modelled at 1:100 and 1:50 as a key space study. This is the ‘family photo’ of model development from concept idea models to key space design.

8. The Ground Floor Plan in Context shows the location of the parliament in relation to the surrounding buildings and spaces. Victoria Square shopping centre is situated to the North-East and East, Arthur Square Retail area to the North and Arthur Street pedestrian Retail area to the West.

9. 1. Public Lift,2.Public Stairs, 3. MLA’s Circulation, 4. Press Circulation, 5. Service Lift,  6. Assembly Circulation, 7. Toilets, 8. Historic Display, 9. Coffee and Bookshop, 10. TV Viewing, 11. Security Turnstiles, 12. Security Office, 13 CCTV, 14. Public Info/Help Desk, 15. Staff, 16. Management, 17. Store, 18. Bar/Restaurant, 19. Store/Freezers, 20. Servery, 21. Kitchens, 22. Ramp to Carpark, 23. Small Committee Room, 24. Large Committee Room, 25. Maintenance Core, 26. Speekers Green.

10. 1. Public Lift,2.Public Stairs, 3. MLA’s Circulation, 4. Press Circulation, 5. Service Lift,  6. Assembly Circulation, 7. Toilets, 8. Maintainence Core, 9. Committee and Clerk Staff, 10. Media Relations and Staff, 11. Parliament Clerk and Staff, 12. Reporting Director and Staff, 13. Information Systems Staff, 14. Smoking Area, 15. Outdoor Terrace, 16. Communications Director and Staff, 17. IT Communications and Staff.

11. 1. Public Lift, 2.Public Stairs, 3. MLA’s Circulation, 4. Press Circulation, 5. Service Lift,  6.Assembly Circulation, 7. Toilets, 8. Maintenance Core, 9. Visitors Room, 10. MLA’s Social Space, 11. Outdoor Terrace, 12. MLA’s Office Space.

12. 1. Public Lift, 2.Public Stairs, 3. MLA’s Circulation, 4. Press Circulation, 5. Service Lift,  6. Assembly Circulation, 7. Toilets, 8. Maintenance Core, 9. Executives Suite, 10. MLA’s Social Space, 11. Outdoor Terrace, 12. MLA’s Office Space, 13. MLA’s Concourse, 14. Rest Room, 15. Debate Chamber Lower Level, 16. Preceding Officer, 17. Business Manager, 18. Reports Office, 19. Ministers Rooms.

13. 1. Public Lift, 2.Public Stairs, 3. MLA’s Circulation, 4. Press Circulation, 5. Service Lift,  6. Assembly Circulation, 7. Toilets, 8. Maintenance Core, 9. Executives Suite, 10. Garden Meeting Rooms, 11. MLA’s Garden, 12. Press Concourse, 13. TV Control, 14. Radio Control 15. Video Conference, 16. Transmission Room, 17. Debate Chamber Upper Level 18. Press Reports Room, 19. Outdoor Terrace, 20. Ministers Rooms, 21. Press Galleries.

14. 1. Public Lift, 2.Public Stairs, 3. MLA’s Circulation, 4. Press Circulation, 5. Service Lift,  6. Assembly Circulation, 7. Toilets, 8. Maintenance Core, 9. Public Galleries, 10. Agencies Studio Pavilions, 11. Agencies Exhibition area, 12. Coffee Stand, 13. Research Seminar Space, 14. Research Exhibition Space, 15. Research, Internet and Blogging.

15. Detailed Section through Committee Rooms, Debate Chamber and Public Galleries.

16. The top model isa rendered 3D CAD model of the primary structure of Steel Reinforced Concrete and Stainless Steel Truss Construction.

The lower model is an exploded floor plate axonometric of circulation, structure and fire escape routes throughout the parliament building.

17. The ‘Final Piece’ model is a 1:50 sectional model through the debate chamber. This is an interior view of the debate chamber from the speaker’s position, overlooked by the MLA’s and upper level public viewing gallery with views to the streets of Belfast City outside.

18. This is an overall picture of the ‘Final Piece’ model as presented in the final show.

19. Cross-section studies of the overall parliament. These are drawn in CAD, with a rendered image imported into Section B-B, to add depth and texture.

20.The images to the top right are the public journey to the debate chamber from the public stairs in the concourse, to the public platform overlooking the committee rooms and Arthur Street, and into the debate chamber.

Below this are elevations to Arthur Street and Montgomery Street.

The top right image is the ground floor internal ‘street’ running through the parliament with restaurant and public stairs to the debate chamber.

Below this is the MLA’s gardens overlooked by the research area of the public elevated forum.

21. A final sectional model was also built through the ground floor ‘street’ and committee rooms, debate chamber, concourses to the debate chamber, atrium and offices and support spaces for the parliament.



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