US architect floats “radical” plan to house UK MPs on raft in the Thames

UK parliamentarians have to vacate their iconic Palace of Westminster because it’s falling apart inside, but an American architectural firm says its "radical" plan to re-house them temporarily on a pavilion in the River Thames would save billions.

The firm, Gensler, says £1.8bn ($2.3bn) could be knocked off the cost of refurbishing the Palace – home to the Houses of Parliament – by avoiding the cost of renting expensive premises elsewhere.

This not only provides a short-term solution to the relocation issue, it also provides some exciting long-term opportunities– Duncan Swinhoe, Gensler

MPs and Lords have known for years that the vast building, completed in 1870, required dramatic refurbishing to fix leaks, corrosion and decrepit plumbing and wiring.

Last month a senior parliamentary committee recommended that politicians just get out for six years to allow the £4bn refurb to take place unhindered.

MPs, said the committee, could move into the nearby Department of Health building, while members of the House of Lords could decamp to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, opposite Westminster Abbey.

But announcing its plan today, Gensler said that for just £160m, its idea for a glass-covered pavilion in the Thames would save a lot of hassle and "provide a flexible and secure home that helps save the British taxpayer more than £1.8bn, based on the House Committee’s own estimates".

The 250-m-long structure (pictured), attached by tube to the member’s terrace, would be built on temporary piles. The building would be a dramatic, high-tech, wooden-framed structure covering 8,600 square metres. The fabrication could be carried out in fewer than three years in shipyards across the UK and floated into position up the Thames, Gensler said.

Duncan Swinhoe, regional managing principal at Gensler, said: "This not only provides a short-term solution to the relocation issue, it also provides some exciting long-term opportunities.

"Once the refurbishment of the palace is complete, the modular structure could be relocated and adapted to provide a permanent legacy such as a Museum for Democracy or a parliament for an emerging overseas democracy."

As for security – the issue that has stymied previous proposals to extend parliament onto the Thames – Gensler says the design would incorporate "a number of security measures that supplement the natural defence provided by the river itself".

A spokesperson for Gensler told GCR that the extension would be within the palace’s existing security cordon and would "meet the same security standards as the present parliament".

  • Updated 3 October to confirm the structure would be fixed to the river bed.

Top image: Gensler’s visualisation of the new structure

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  1. Yes, but have they made provision for the structure to be able to be floated out of the Thames once the restoration of Houses of Parliament has been completed? “Relocated” sounds a bit vague to me!

  2. What an absolutely fabulous idea, I wonder how deep it could be constructed providing more stability and creating even more office space.

  3. Gensler’s proposal has great merit! The concept of a Floating Parliament building has Economic, Technical and Financial sense. However, it should be located at the extreme Western end of the Exclusion Zone and the Protection Zone extended to incorporate it in that location. This would allow siting of Worker Accommodation Barges and docking of Material and Labour Transport Barges to be alongside the Palace itself. This simple amendment would provide a 21st Century Project Management team the chance to enjoy advantageous access to the Works without snarling already congested City Roads with supply traffic and further threatening the Schedule of Works. Everything needs to be done to allow this Global Showcase Refurbishment Project to be delivered On Time- On Budget – On Specification

    The structure would have a “second life” prospect and would itself become a Visitor Attraction adding to the Economic Value of the Project and allowing offset of part of its Capital Cost.

  4. The Gensler’s proposal is outstanding and the comment by Victor makes so much sense in its simplicity it’s great. Having material delivered by barge would take so much pressure of the road system and be environmentally friendly.

  5. What a brilliant idea – would there not be an opportunity to locate some of the other services to parliament permanently on the river after the refurbishment?

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