Environmental lessons for modern architecture from Houses of Parliament rebuild

Olivia Miller
Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament: David Boswell Reid and Disruptive Environmentalism [Routledge]

A new book by the Kent School of Architecture and Planning’s Professor Henrik Schoenefeldt has uncovered how the history and architecture of the Houses of Parliament has been fundamentally shaped by environmental concerns.

Professor Schoenefeldt’s book, titled Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament: David Boswell Reid and Disruptive Environmentalism [Routledge], provides a timely and long overdue exploration of the history and politics behind the rebuilding of the UK Houses of Parliament from an environmental perspective. It is also the first book to retrace the role that the renowned Scottish physician Dr David Boswell Reid played in developing the environmental design of the Houses of Parliament, engaging with issues of energy efficiency, atmospheric pollution comfort and public health.

At a time when sustainability has never been so important an issue in contemporary architecture, Professor Schoenefeldt celebrates and critically examines the evolution of the environmental principles underlying the architectural features of the Houses of Parliament to prioritise air quality, energy efficiency and thermal comfort. His research yields insights into the historic methods of environmental design that were characterised by physical experimentation, user-engagement and post-occupancy evaluation.

He said: ‘David Boswell Reid was an innovator of his time and changed the face of architecture in many ways to bring environmental considerations to the forefront. The Houses of Parliament re-build became a muse for many other historical buildings throughout the past 150 years. Not every MP agreed with Boswell Reid’s ideas – in fact the divided opinions between the House of Commons and House of Lords led to the installation of a wall to separate the Houses’ chambers, still there to this day. Nevertheless, his thinking prompted the need for balance and collaboration in architectural project management.’

Professor Schoenefeldt has been conducting research on Parliament over the last nine years. Since 2016 he has been seconded to Parliament, where he leads a large research project within the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Programme. His research has involved archaeological investigations inside the buildings, as well as the study of historic documents from the nineteenth and twentieth century, all of which assisted the writing of his book.

Henrik Schoenefeldt is a Professor of Sustainable Architecture and AHRC Leadership Fellow at the Kent School of Architecture and Planning. His research interests include the history of environmental design and technology, the theory and history of landscape architecture and PassivHaus design and its adoption in the UK.