The Architecture of Parliaments Around the World


Parliament is a historic space for debate, collective decision-making and politics. The term can be understood as a symbolic notion where parliament is a political abstract place, or as a physical notion where parliament is an architectural and functional space. In the first case, parliament is a symbolic concept that represents the political power and system in place by being the guarantor of legislative power. In the second case, parliament is a defined and designed place where elected representatives sit and where debates take place. In the broadest sense, parliament is the space where politics take shape.

During the 2014 Venice Biennale of Architecture, the Dutch architecture agency XML presented its ongoing research on “theatres of democracy”. For two years they have visited, photographed, drawn and documented parliaments architecture around the world. In this way, they listed the places of political congregation in the 193 member states of the United Nations. During the exhibition they analysed how the representatives of today’s democracy mainly gathered in a semicircular typological space inherited from the architecture of the Greek theatre of Syracuse. Many parliaments built during the last two centuries are inspired by an ancient architectural structure, which remains a dominant model for contemporary political regimes. Both in the physical architectural sense and in the symbolic sense.

Typologies of democracy

The result of this research is now available in a book, Parliament, in which they are reviewed according to 5 typologies. The study is also questionning about the influence of the parliaments architecture on the holding of debates, or even, according to certain patterns, on the level of democracy in the country. Whether they are placed face to face as in the United Kingdom, or seated side by side in large armchairs, the atmosphere of the debates is different and therefore, may in some way, influence the legislation.
These typologies are often inspired by ancient influences and most of them have not changed since the 19th century. This can be observed in the majority of countries, regardless of their level of democracy. But the question remaining is, how architecture could shape political culture?

First typology

The first typology is the semicircle, or hemicycle, inspired by antiquity. This is the most common typology of parliament. Following the French Revolution, and the formation of the Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly), the neoclassical expression made a comeback and spread throughout the world’s parliaments. The borrowing of ancient symbols also gives a certain aura and grandeur to the parliament. European parliaments (in Brussels and Strasbourg) also use this pattern.

Assemblée National Architecture Parliament
Japan Tokyo Parliament
EU Brussels Parliaments
EU Brussels
EU Strasbourg Parliament
EU Strasbourg

Second typology

The second typology, which is quite different, is the British model. The two benches are opposed, with the majority on the right and the opposition members on the left. This binary model is inherited from an anti-democratic disposition. The assembly that advised the king opposed two bodies, the nobles in front of the clergy. This model persisted and spread mainly to the states colonized by the United Kingdom. In India, the  Palace of Assembly in Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier, for example, is based on this model. It is not, however, the national parliament.

United Kingdom Architecture Parliament
United Kingdom
chandigarh Parliament Plan
Chandigarh, India

Third typology

The third typology is a hybridization of the first two. The two opposing benches meet at the end of the hall forming a horseshoe. It is found in Commonwealth countries such as Australia, South Africa or Malaysia. One of the world’s most architecturally recognized parliaments is of this type. It is the parliament of Bangladesh, the Jatiya Sangsad, designed by Louis Khan.

Bangladesh Louis Khan Architecture Parliament Plan
South Africa

Fourth typology

The fourth typology is a little-used typology. It is the circle parliament, which is only used in 9 states of the world. This circular form is intended to represent an idea of equity among members of parliament.

North Rhine-Westphalia

Fifth typology

The fifth and final typology is a pattern called classroom. It shows all the elected officials in rows, side by side, facing a speaker. This typology is mainly found in countries with a discussed democratic regime, or even in communist-inspired dictatorships. Moreover, an observation is made regarding the inversely proportional relationship between the number of members of parliament and the level of effective democracy in the country. Russia, China or North Korea use this model in their parliaments.

Russia Parliament Architecture

More Architecture of Parliaments

The XML website is the virtual counterpart of the 448 pages book. It presents other parliaments architecture classified by typology, regime, size and period with photos and texts. The Parliament book can also be purchased via their site.

Parliament Plan Architecture
Source: XML, Hasard Society

4 thoughts on “The Architecture of Parliaments Around the World

  1. Indian parliament now has an old building declared as a heritage site and a new building for its parliamentary affairs.
    Both have a semi-circular design. I don't see any reliable source which might point you to a British model.

  2. It's not the actual Indian parliament, it's one of Le Corbusier's masterpieces, the Palace of Assembly of Chandigarh (Union Territory).
    Indian parliament has a semicircular design.

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