Charles Barry - Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

Following the destruction by fire of the existing Houses of Parliament on 16 October 1834, a competition was held to find a suitable design, for which there were 97 entries. Barry's entry, number 64, Pugin helped prepare the competition drawings, won the commission in January 1836 to design the new Palace of Westminster. His collaboration with Pugin (who designed furniture, stained glass, sculpture, wallpaper, decorative floor tiles, mosaic work etc.) was not renewed until June 1844 and continued until Pugin's mental break down in 1852. The Tudor Gothic architectural style was chosen to complement the Henry VII Lady Chapel opposite. The design had to incorporate those parts of the building that escaped destruction, most notably Westminster Hall, the adjoining double storey cloisters of St Stephen's court and the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel, Barry's design was parallel to the River Thames, but the surviving buildings are at a slight angle to the river, thus Barry had to incorporate this awkward difference in axis into the design. Although the design included most of the elements of the finished building, including the two towers at either end of the building, it would undergo significant redesign, the winning design was only about 650 feet in length about two-thirds the size of the finished building. The central lobby and tower were later additions as were the extensive royal suite at the southern end of the building. The amended design on which construction commenced was approximately the same size as the finished building, although both the Victoria Tower and Clock Tower were considerably taller in the finished building and the Central Tower was not yet part of the design.

Before construction could commence the site had to be embanked, and the site cleared of the remains of the buildings and various sewers diverted. On 1 September 1837 work started on building a 920 foot long coffer-dam to enclose the building site along the river. The construction of the embankment started on New Year's Day 1839. The first work consisted of the construction of a vast concrete-raft to serve as the buildings foundation, after the foundations had been dug by hand, 70,000 cubic yards of concrete were laid, the site of the Victoria Tower was found to be of Quicksand, necessitating the use of piles. The stone selected for the exterior of the building was quarried at Anston in Yorkshire, the core of the walls are of brick. In order to make the building as fire-proof as possible wood was not used structurally, only decoratively. Cast iron was used extensively, for example the roofs of the building consist are of cast iron girders covered by sheets of iron, cast iron beams were also used as joists to support the floors and extensively in the internal structures of both the clock tower and Victoria tower. Barry and his engineer Alfred Meeson were responsible for designing scaffolding, hoists and cranes used in the construction, one of their most innovative developments was the scaffolding used to construct the three main towers. For the central tower they designed an inner rotating scaffold, surrounded by timber centring to support the masonry vault of the Central Lobby, that spans 57 feet 2 inches, and an external timber tower, a portable steam engine was used to lift stone and brick to the upper parts of the tower. When it came to build the Victoria and Clock towers it was decided to dispense with external scaffolding and lift building materials up through the towers by an internal scaffolding that traveled up the structure as it was built. The scaffold and cranes being powered by steam engines.

Work on the actual building began with the laying of a foundation stone on 27 April 1840 by Barry's wife Sarah near the north-east corner of the building. A major problem for Barry came with the appointment on 1 April 1840 of the ventilation expert Dr David Boswell Reid. Reid, who Barry described as '..not profess to be thoroughly acquainted with the practical details of building and machinery' would make increasing demands that affected the building's design, leading to delays in construction, and by 1845 Barry refused to communicate with Reid except in writing. A direct result of Reid's demands was the addition of the Central Tower, designed to act as a giant chimney to draw fresh air through the building.

The House of Lords was completed in April 1847, the room is a double cube (90 x 45 x 45 feet) and the House of Commons finished in 1852, where after he was created a Knight Bachelor. The Clock Tower is 316 feet tall and was completed in 1858 the Victoria Tower is 323 feet tall and completed in 1860, the iron flagpole on the Victoria Tower tapers from two feet to nine inches in diameter and the iron crown on top is 3 feet 6 inches in diameter and 395 feet above ground. The central tower is 261 feet high. The building is 940 feet in length, the east Thames facade is 873 feet in length, it covers about eight acres of land and has over 1000 rooms. A.W.N. Pugin later dismissed the building saying 'All Grecian, Sir, Tudor details on a classic body', the essentially symmetrical plan and river front being offensive to Pugin's taste for medieval gothic buildings.

The plan of the finished building is built around two major axes, at the southern end of Westminster Hall, St. Stephen's porch was created, as a major entrance to the building, this involved inserting a great arch with a grand stair case at the southern end of Westminster hall, this leads to the first floor where the major rooms are located. To the east of St. Stephens porch is St. Stephen's Hall, this is built on the surviving under-croft of St. Stephen's Chapel, to the east of this the octagonal Central Lobby (above which is the central tower) this is the centre of the building. North of the Central Lobby is the Commons' Corridor, this leads into the square Commons' Lobby, north of which is the House of Commons, there are various offices and corridors to the north of the House of Commons with the clock tower terminating the northern axis of the building. South of the Central Lobby is the Peers' Corridor leading to the Peers' Lobby, south of which lies the House of Lords. South of the House of Lords in sequence are Prince's Chamber, Royal Gallery and Queen's Robing Room. To the north-west of the Queen's Robing Chamber if the Norman Porch to the west of which the Royal Staircase leads down to the Royal Entrance located immediately beneath the Victoria Tower. East of the Central Lobby is the East Corridor leading to the Lower Waiting Hall, to the east of which is the Members Dining Room located in the very centre of the east front. To the north of the Members Dining Room lies the House of Commons Library, and at the northern end of the east front is the projecting Speaker,s House, home of the Speaker of the House of Commons (United Kingdom), to the south of the Members Dining Room lies various committee rooms followed by House of Lords Library, projecting from the southern end of the facade is the Lord Chancellor's House home of The Lord Chancellor.

Although Parliament gave Barry a prestigious name in architecture, it near enough finished him off. The building was overdue, Barry had estimated it would take six years and £724,986 (excluding the cost of the site, embankment and furnishings), its construction took twenty six years and was well over budget, by July 1854 the estimated cost was £2,166,846, making Barry tired and stressed. The fully Barry design was never completed, the design would have enclosed New Palace Yard as an internal courtyard, the clock tower would have been in the north-east corner, with a great gateway in the north-west corner surmounted by the Albert Tower, and continuing south along the west front of Westminster Hall.

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