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There have been doorkeepers here since the 14th century: dressed in white tie, they control the movements of others with punctilious energy. Doorkeepers are also sources of gossip, wit and speculative histories of the palace. Floors, as it happens, are important: green carpets mean you are in the part of the building owned by the Commons; red carpets mean the Lords. Notices pinned everywhere contribute extra layers of admonition and exhortation.

In one courtyard there is even a sign advising parliamentarians what to do if they come across a grounded juvenile peregrine, which is try to throw a cardboard box over it. A pair of the falcons nests on the roof. The Lords, naturally, specialises in arcane forms of movement control. The place is full of mysterious, hidden spaces. On the upper floors, linenfold panelling turns out to hide secret doors leading to the roof.

In Central Lobby, behind a statue of the 19th-century Liberal prime minister Lord John Russell, is an inconspicuous door. From here, 82 steps spiral up to the cavernous, dark space that houses the winding gear for the mighty chandelier hanging below.


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Being here is like standing in the dome of a cathedral. High above you a great spire rises, with apertures open to the sky, once intended as part of the ventilation system. Someone had been here before us: wire from a champagne bottle lay discarded on the ground. Others are less enthusiastic. The Labour MP Chris Bryant , himself a historian of parliament, and a member of the joint committee, snorted at the notion that the place was romantic.

The loos stink, he said. Still, he loves the place: he and his partner were the first couple to have a civil partnership ceremony here.

One parliamentary clerk told me of the dampness from the Thames in winter and the overwhelming heat in the summer, of the mice that infest the place, of the difficulty of finding a wifi signal, of the general feeling of grubbiness she feels at the end of each day. Among them is Sarah Childs, who, as a visiting academic to parliament, published The Good Parliament report last year.

It is not just that the building is deeply gendered, she argues — heavy, unwieldy doors; an overwhelming number of artworks depicting men; dark, intimidating bars; seats from which shorter, female legs dangle without reaching the ground. When the House of Commons was bombed in the second world war, Winston Churchill insisted it was rebuilt exactly as it was before.

Some might ask: is the palace shaping the the kind of politics Britain actually needs? T he House of Commons chamber, where politicians glare at each other across an aisle like hostile choristers, looks the way it does through historical accident. The basic layout of the chamber has followed exactly the same design since. Today it is in a terrible state. Leaving aside the problem that it has too few seats for MPs and space for only one wheelchair, there is the fact that the concrete substructure on which it sits has asbestos-lined air ducts running through it. The only way to remove it safely, said head of restoration and renewal Tom Healey, is to break it out of the concrete in which it is embedded.

He is also worried about the electrical cables, installed after the blitz. That eventually turns to dust inside the wall — then you have dust around your cables, and that is obviously a fire risk. It is in this chamber that MPs will argue about how to renovate the palace. The debate is much delayed: it was supposed to happen in late , then December , and now it has slipped again to January In fact, no opportunity for procrastination has been squandered during the entire process.

Such a move would involve constructing temporary chambers nearby: Richmond House, the current Department of Health building, was proposed by the joint committee for the Commons; the QE2 conference centre for the Lords. The ordinary citizen may be left wondering: if the most important decision-making body in the country cannot make a decision, then what?

If parliament cannot run its own building, then what hope the country?


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  8. Logically speaking, the doubt about what to do seems incomprehensible. Its precious artworks and building fabric all need conservation. It needs to be made a better workplace. It is, above all, dangerous. The symbolism would be terrible if there were a disaster: imagine news footage of smoke curling out of a hastily evacuated palace at a moment when Britain is struggling to establish a semblance of post-Brexit stability.

    Of course you tackle it.

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    And of course you move out, because that way the work will happen faster, and more safely, which will be cheaper. But this is Westminster. This is the world not of reason, but of politics, with all the hedging, compromises, self-interest, short-termism and sheer pig-headedness that that implies. A group of Conservative backbenchers, including Sir Edward Leigh and Shailesh Vara, are contemplating an amendment to the government motion. In short, they are in denial. Stowell and Bryant think the project could be turned to the good: as a major infrastructural project, it will create jobs, and could be used as a boost for apprenticeships in the many trades and crafts that will be needed to nurse this Victorian masterpiece back to health.


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    It could even, said Stowell, become a positive statement of intent in a post-Brexit Britain, when what some regard as a newly sovereign British parliament establishes itself. Others take a darker view. Leigh predicts that the costs are bound to escalate.

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    He may fear other kinds of feast, too. Westminster, these days, is a byword for many things, nearly all of them awful. Trust in politicians is low. Westminster is considered out of touch, a bubble. As Figes tells it, Lily is the person who sees the world most like the way Monet hopes to paint it. She is the one who pays the most attention to the light—and to the choices a person makes, or might make, when he or she perceives an object.

    Here she is looking at a red balloon:. Looking through it was the secret, she decided, if you just looked at it the balloon seemed rather dull, a matte surface which would begin to wrinkle, its navel tied with twine. But its red transparency changed everything, the quality of vision, like closing her eyes against the sunlight, and seeing bright red through the lids. Through a great deal of conscious effort and planning, and the sculpting of nature into something considerably more tame and reliable, Monet hoped to perceive something true about the world, or at least some small patches of it, without self-consciousness, as a child might.

    It was beautiful, but I walked through it alongside a few hundred tourists from around the world. Many were fiddling with their beeping, whirring cameras; others were trying to control their children, who were obviously thinking less about Monet and more about the gift shop, or the ice-cream truck they saw on their way in.

    The key is looking through it. Here she is looking at a red balloon: Looking through it was the secret, she decided, if you just looked at it the balloon seemed rather dull, a matte surface which would begin to wrinkle, its navel tied with twine. Peter C. Baker is a writer living in Chicago. Recommended Stories.

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    Whether it happens in 15 years or 50, a shift to autonomous vehicles would leave metro areas with an even greater surplus of parking space. Fewer cars would be sitting idle most of the day, since a fleet will theoretically be on the move most of the time. Less room would be needed for parking, since five self-driving cars will fit into space now occupied by four. That day may be somewhere in the distant future, but it is a future that the people who build and own parking lots, and the cities that house them, cannot afford to ignore.

    Converting an existing garage to other uses is not an easy thing to do. Mary Smith, a principal at Walker Consultants, a firm specializing in the design and restoration of parking facilities worldwide, points out that repurposing a multilevel garage to housing, office or retail space is more than a matter of adding walls and plumbing.

    Designing a structure to carry cars is not at all like designing for people and their possessions. A typical parking garage is designed more like a bridge than like a building. Support columns are spaced far apart, which allows the floors to flex. Retrofitting an existing garage requires additional strengthening of the structure and adding stairs and elevators -- and maybe hollowing out an atrium in the middle to bring in more light -- all of which significantly increases the cost.

    For that reason, a growing number of developers, architects and engineers have started building new garages with the capacity to be switched to other uses, if and when the need arises. Major projects of this kind in Denver, Houston and Los Angeles are already under construction or on the drawing board. With level floors and foot ceilings, the structure is being designed such that it could one day accommodate office space, retail, a gym and a theater. Walker Consultants recently designed an office complex for a client that wanted to make the parking area completely convertible.

    They willingly paid a third more to have the structure designed from the start to be ready for a future conversion. Merwin thinks that designing garages that are adaptable will add value to a property, much the way LEED green building certification does today. Parking stripes are still visible in a newly adapted space at Northwestern University. Repurposing garages is not exactly a new idea. In Depression-era New York, two Kent Automatic Garages were erected, standing 24 stories tall and holding nearly 1, cars. An electronic parking device guided each car into an elevator and then to an empty slot far above the street.

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    Similar elevated automatic garages were built in Cincinnati and Chicago. One of the New York buildings was later converted into a warehouse, then condos. The other was repurposed as office space in Some adaptive reuse conversions have moved in the opposite direction. New owners wanted to tear it down, but that would have compromised the structural integrity of the adjoining office tower.