The Parliamentary Offices
Portcullis House 
Bridge Street 
London SW1A 2LW
United Kingdom

Michael Hopkins and Partners 2001

An audit of parliamentary office space coincided with the creation of a new tube station for the Jubilee Line at Westminster, to create the opportunity for a major new office building as part of the Westminster 'Parliamentary Campus'.

The new tube station, however, also provided a huge constraint. The new building, with offices for 210 Members of Parliament, had to be built on top of the void of the station's ticket hall, supported inside its perimeter on only six columns - yet it also had to be bomb-proof with a planned life of 200 years. The result, in engineering terms, is impressive: a solid five-story building around a central courtyard, all supported on massive concrete arches, braced by steel tension members, that bridge the six supports from the tube station at the level of the first-floor cloister.

 

Visually, the exterior of the building takes its references both from Charles Barry's 1860 Palace of Westminster, and from Norman Shaw's neighboring 1890 New Scotland Yard building on Victoria Embankment. The result is a heavy, unfriendly, almost clumsy facade, dominated in all but the closest views by the fourteen heavy, black and outsize bronze chimneys lining the top of the three-story black roof. This massive roof structure is functional - the chimneys draw used air out of the building - but is also a reference to both the brick chimneys atop the New Scotland Yard building and the pinnacles (which are also chimneys) of the Palace of Westminster. 

It is as if the shipbuilding-like engineering that so satisfactorily supports the cloister over the tube station void became a habit, culminating in the extraordinary superstructure of ducts and funnels at roof level.

If this is the result of an overly 'solid' specification, focusing on the 200 year life, then London's other new parliamentary office building - City Hall across the river - should give pause for thought. Norman Foster's stunning City Hall was created and funded as part of a neighboring commercial office space development, from whom the Greater London Authority leases the building on a 25-year lease.

Simon Glynn 2004


How to visit

Portcullis House is on the corner of Bridge Street and Victoria Embankment, just across the street from Big Ben.

The nearest tube station is Westminster, directly underneath the building.

As parliamentary offices, it is part of the secure campus of the Palace of Westminster, and not open to the public. It is possible to see past the security guards into the glazed courtyard on the Victoria Embankment side. To visit the interior, look out for opportunities in London's annual late-September 'open house' weekend (www.londonopenhouse.org). 


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