The Bartlett School of Architecture


The Bartlett’s Professor Sophia Psarra Edits New Parliament Buildings Anthology

2 November 2023

The new publication, compiled by UCL academics Professor Sophia Psarra, Dr Uta Staiger and Dr Claudia Sternberg, explores the architecture of parliament buildings in Europe.

Book cover for Parliament Buildings: The Architecture of Politics in Europe (UCL Press, 2023)

A new book explores how the physical spaces that host the work of politics relate to political culture. The book offers the first multi-disciplinary study of architecture and politics in Europe and across history.

Parliament Buildings: The Architecture of Politics in Europe (UCL Press, 2023) gathers expertise and perspectives from across the fields of architecture, history, art history, history of political thought, sociology, behavioural psychology, anthropology and political science, including contributions from architects who have designed or remodelled some of Europe’s modern parliament buildings. The book is illustrated throughout, with 157 colour photos and illustrations.

In examining the physical spaces where parliamentary politics is carried out day-to-day, the book's essays ask questions about scrutiny in parliaments; the balance of power between parliaments and executives; the rules and norms in how parliamentary spaces are used; how devolutions and tensions between sovereign state, indigenous or stateless people put pressure on the spatial structure and architectural language of expression of parliament buildings; and how parliaments can stay relevant, meaningful and accessible to the citizens whom they serve, among others.

Commenting on the thinking behind the book, Sophia Psarra said,

At the time when a number of restoration projects of parliaments are under way, including a proposal for an expensive and extensive refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster, under the Restoration and Renewal Programme (R&R), the book asserts architecture as an active agent in the formation of political culture and parliamentary politics."

The book is the latest output from a research project for which Prof Psarra and Dr Sternberg received a Grand Challenges Special Initiatives UCL grant in 2019-20. The editors, who also contributed an introductory note to the book, used the grant to organise the two–part virtual Parliament Buildings Conference, which took place in 2020 and 2021, supported by the UCL European Institute. As part of the research project, they also wrote comment pieces, a blog for the Hansard Society, a podcast episode and produced two videos, Inside The Parliament: The Architecture of Democracy, presenting a series of pilot interviews with a diverse group of parliamentarians from the Palace of Westminster and the German Reichstag. The videos were produced by Sophia Psarra and Graham Riach, a lecturer in world literature at the University of Oxford.

Parliament Buildings is a brilliant interdisciplinary exploration of a fascinating topic. Theoretically sophisticated, empirically rich and historically informed, it demonstrates the multiple ways in which politics and the built environment intersect, and sheds light on the symbolic and material practices central to contemporary representative politics.”

– Duncan Bell, University of Cambridge

Prof Sophia Psarra is Professor of Architecture and Spatial Design at The Bartlett School of Architecture, and the Programme Director for Architecture & Urban History & Theory MPhil/PhD. Dr Uta Staiger is Associate Professor of European Studies, Director of the European Institute, UCL and Global Strategic Academic Advisor (Europe) at UCL. Claudia Sternberg is Principal Research Fellow and Head of Academic Programmes at the European Institute, UCL.

Parliament Buildings: The Architecture of Politics in Europe is published by UCL Press and available at their website in hardback, paperback and as a free open access PDF. The editors will host a book launch for Parliament Buildings in March.

More information

Lead image: Naomi Gibson-produced with reference to documentation by TU Vienna (2014) and Google Maps
Carousel images: 
1. Aerial view of the Palace of Westminster. © André Zehetbauer, ‘Aerial photo graphs of Westminster Palace from the London Eye’, 29 September 2006. Source: Wikimedia Commons, reproduced on the basis of a CC BY-SA 2.0. licence. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Westminster_Palace_-_2.jpg 
2. Plenary hall of the French Assemblée Nationale, Paris. © Coucouoeuf, taken 3 July 2010. Source: Wikimedia Commons, reproduced on the basis of a CC BY- SA 3.0 licence. Available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid = 21054979 
3. The Reichstag chambers. © Michael (2014). Creative Commons via Flickr, reproduced on the basis of CC BY-ND 2.0 licence. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/photo64/14622479697/.
4. The House of Commons. © UK Parliament (2020). Creative Commons via Flickr, reproduced on the basis of CC BY-ND 2.0 licence. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/50021458783/.