Parliament House

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Parliament House
Parliament-house.jpg
Parliament House viewed from Parliament Square
General information
Status Complete
Architectural style Neoclassical
Location Kingsbury, CENT
Address Parliament Square
Elevation 3,540 ft (1,080 m)
Construction started 21 November 1858
Completed 12 March 1868
Inaugurated 29 April 1868
Cost £198,000
Owner Parliament of Guelphia
Height 120 ft (37 m)
Technical details
Diameter 404 ft × 208 ft (123 m × 63 m)
Floor area 84,032 sq ft (7,806.8 m2)
Grounds 188 acres (76 ha)
Design and construction
Architect William Sparkes
Main contractor Ministry of Public Works

Parliament House is the seat of the Parliament of Guelphia, and is where the House of Assembly and Senate meet. Located in Kingsbury, the building is located on a specially designed site at the end of the great ceremonial axis that runs from the Parliament across the River Sandon to University College Kingsbury, some 4 12 miles (7.2 km) away.

Although extensively refurbished after a fire in 1926, much of the building dates to the original construction in the 1860s. The foundations are the oldest part of the building, having been laid by convict labour in 1858-59.

Location

The building is located in the suburb of South Hill, exactly 1 mile (1.6 kilometres) from Alexander Square which is taken to be the centre of the city. The building sits the crest of a small ridge that is in turn surrounding by the higher ridges of Flagstaff Hill. The building's grand façade overlooks Parliament Square and The Mall, giving it a commanding view to the north and making it one of the most visible public buildings in the city.

Parliament House forms the basis of Kingsbury's government zone, with most ministerial buildings located on the blocks on front the building that overlook The Mall. To either side of Parliament House sit the offices of Senators and members of the House of Assembly, and beyond those, the official residences of the Prime Minister and Speaker of the House of Assembly. Around the entire parliamentary are gardens and sporting fields for the use of Senators, MHAs, their families, and staff.

History

Construction

The current Parliament House is the second building to bear this name. The "new" building replaced it's predecessor that had been constructed in Port Frederick in 1835. The Old Parliament House served as the seat of the government until the Russian "scare" in the late 1850s forced the construction of Kingsbury as new capital far from the sea. The foundation stone of new building was laid by Resident Commissioner, William Thurley, on the 21 November 1858, some two months after the city had been formally inaugurated. With the use of free and convict labour, the building would some 10 years to complete, with much of the limestone sourced from quarries far away on the Isle of Lunenburg. Local timbers were used to decorate the interior of the building.

The total cost of the construction was estimated to be £50,000, a massive sum for such a small nation. Yet, when completed 10 years later, the building had cost some £198,000. Despite the controversy in the cost, the new building was quickly hailed a source of pride for the nation. Alexander II remarked in his opening speech that the new building would be: "The place where the magnates of the land shall gather to make our country better for all."

The building soon settled in to the role of the seat of government, and for the next 58 years became fondly loved by those who served and worked in it

The fire

On the evening of Thursday, 24 June 1926, just as the House of Assembly was due to rise for the winter recess, a fire alarm was raised by an attendant in the Government Party Room. One of the primitive gas heaters that warmed the room had ruptured, with devastating results. Before anyone could attempt to douse the flames, the fire had progressed beyond control and rapidly spread throughout much of the building. The building was rapidly evacuated and no lives were lost in the conflagration. Quick thinking by several members and their attendants ensured that an effort was made to save as much of the precious furniture, files, and artwork out of the burning structure before it was lost.

The fire blazed for two days, destroying all but a small portion of the original interior of the building. The heat from the fire was hot enough to melt Sparkes' original copper central dome, which collapsed some 12 hours after the fire broke out. Despite the best efforts of the rescuers, a large quantity of irreplaceable records were also destroyed in the fire, including much of the business that had been before Parliament in that session. Parliament was forced to relocate itself to temporary accommodation, with the Assembly moving to Kingsbury Town Hall, whilst the Senate met in the lecture theatre of the Museum of Science. One of the first matters dealt with would be setting up an inquiry in to the cause of the fire, and appropriating the necessary funds to initiate the restoration of Parliament House to it's original grandeur. Calls for the building to be torn down and replaced by a building "in the modern style", were swiftly rejected by a majority of members.

The building underwent serious reconstruction and the dome and drum were completely rebuilt in a new source of limestone as opposed to the original stone whose reserves had been exhausted in the intervening years. The new limestone is a much darker colour, which gives the impression that the dome is dirty or unmaintained. Nevertheless, the restorations were completed by 1929, just before the onset of the Great Depression which would have surely halted their completion. The building was officially reopened by Philip I on Tuesday, 29 April 1930, in a much scaled down and somewhat austere ceremony.

Expansion

Designations
Listed building – Category I
Official name: Houses of Parliament and Grounds
Designated: 1 July 1952
Reference No. C146223

Until the expansion of membership in the 1950s, the building was more than sufficient to accommodate all of the members and their staff. However, when the House of Assembly was expanded to 116 members in 1952, it became apparent that the building was in danger of becoming overcrowded. Parliament therefore voted to construct two annex buildings in 1953 in the gardens either side of the main building to serve as offices for Senators and MHAs. The interior of main building would be modified to allow more grand offices to be constructed for the most senior office holders and the expansion of the party rooms to fit to expanded membership of the Parliament.

The new annexes, which have survived through to the present day, were built in the "stripped classical" style. They therefore appear as somewhat modern, by complimentary partners to the neoclassical main building by had been built a century before. The annexes cost £150,000 to build, were opened by Princess Charlotte in 1955.

Restoration

By the early 1990s, the building was beginning to look dirty, and in many places away from the public eye, there was a wholly unsatisfactory shabbiness about the place. In 1991, Parliament voted to restore the building to it's original style. Parliament was again temporary relocated to Kingsbury Town Hall and the Museum of Science for the duration of the restoration. At a cost of some £500,000, the building was completely gutted with it's foundations reinforced and updated to the most modern building requirements for earthquake and liquefaction damage. Nearly 2 12 long tons (2.5 metric tons) of asbestos in the form of insulation, tiles, and paint was also removed from the building. Much of the building was restored to original specification that Sparkes had laid down in his original plan, with only a handful of modifications required for modern building and fire regulations.

The newly restored complex was opened by James I on the 29 April 1996.

Parliamentary complex

File:Parliament-ground.png
The floor plan for the ground level of Parliament House
The building consists of a single major structure, which is divided in to a central block and two wings. All the important rooms can be found within this complex, which has a footprint of some 84,032 sq ft (7,806.8 m2). Apart from the office of senior members, the offices for most of the members are located in the two modern annex buildings that were constructed in the 1950s.

The building consists of three levels, and has a strongly symmetrical design. The principal focus of the building is the central block, atop which is the dome of the building. Off to each side of the central block are the wings, which contain the debating chambers, the main committee rooms, party rooms, and the offices for senior members such as the Speaker, Lord Chancellor, and the whips.

Lower level

While much of the lower level is given over for services and storage, it contains a number of other important facilities for members and staff. The basement is home to:

  • Members Dining Room
  • Members Bar
  • Strangers Bar
  • Members and staff car park
  • Auditorium
  • Members cinema
  • Gymnasium, swimming pool and indoor sports court
  • Offices of the Serjeant-at-Arms and Black Rod

Ground level

The ground floor is the most important floor of the building, and contains the following rooms:

Upper level

The top floor is home to following:

  • Parliamentary Press Gallery
  • Public galleries
  • Office of the Leader of the SDLP
  • SDLP party room
  • Parliamentary Library
  • Parliamentary Museum

Gardens

The gardens of Parliament House are one of the most famous features of the building, and offer a place of escape and recreation for members and staff. There are formal gardens, courtyards and outdoor playing facilities which are designed for members to use as an extension of the building itself. The gardens date to the 1860s when the building was first constructed.

Rules and traditions

See also

References and notes

Other links