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Architectural Violence &

Creative Resistance. Parliament, Government Institutional Architecture & the People. Luke Flanagan s3053188 9th June 2011


Architectural Violence and Creative Resistance.

Parliament, Government Institutional Architecture & the People. A question which must be asked prior to the commencement of this piece is ‘what is violence?’ It is a nonconcrete term which can be defined as many things, physical, psychological, and philosophical. The word dates back to the Latin term ‘violentia’, meaning ‘vehemence’, or ‘impetuosity’, ‘violentus’, meaning ‘forcible’, and ‘violare’ meaning ‘improper treatment’1; incorporating this, while also undertaking a further exploration into a variety of writings by philosophers such as Giorgio Agamben and Hannah Arendt, we can see that a much more effective form of violence would be that of exclusion, or to be placed within a state of exception. What could be more violent besides death itself than to be excluded and placed outside of consideration and to be stripped of rights? William Shakespeare wrote it within his play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that the next form of punishment from death itself was to be banished, excluded from the city; therefore if within the sense of the term ‘homosacer’, death is to be considered as an exercise of a final freedom and a release from the world, then the utmost form of violence within the living world would be that of exclusion. As people who live within societies we are governed by laws developed by government bodies which are created in order to be a representation of the people, with the best interests of the people in mind when developing policies and laws. If the Government body is a representation of the ‘people’, it then becomes the right of each person to have an influence upon this body to which they allocate their power of self governance, making the right to influence parliament a crucial liberty and freedom in society; the exclusion from influencing parliamentary processes would then be the most drastic form of violence which can be forced upon a person while an individual is a part of a society. The spheres of politics and architecture and two that have always been within a somewhat constant dialogue with each other, the governing of a country or state and the significant buildings from which this is administered are two aspects of civilization which are intrinsically linked. Since the ancient greek and roman times it has remained an important aspect of government that the power of the institution be displayed through the buildings from which the country or city state is being ruled. Many government buildings through the ages have been modelled on temples to the deities and gods such as the parthenon and the pantheon, which prompts the question of what this type of architecture symbolizes in contemporary times. These buildings which became archetypes for the classical and neoclassical styles, were built as monuments to power and exclusion, informed by principles of proportion to define beauty, in order to create a structure fit for the gods, or rather the governing bodies of that particular time. Architecture is a language which is written in code which must be deciphered in order to fully understand it, elements of construction have meanings attached to them and in the same way a written piece or an art piece may be read, so may an architectural piece. Government institutional buildings symbolise the hopes and aspirations of a nation, and also the relationship to the people, and so, must account for this within their design and construction. Political governing systems and structures have undergone drastic changes over the course of the centuries, shifting between monarchies and sovereign power, dictatorships, communism, socialism, and democracy, but the question being posed within this essay is how the architecture of these institutions has shifted or signified the intentions of the governments of the time, the inclusion or exclusion of the people from the governing process, and the connection or disconnection of the governing bodies from the people being ruled. This essay aims to examine the current political structure in Australia, the democratic parliament and its meaning, how this has changed over time, the relationship between the government and the masses, and the disconnection signified by its institutional buildings. Along with this it will examine the manner in which more contemporary structures are attempting to combat this type of polar disconnection and exclusion of people from government, between the interior and the exterior of the parliamentary building. The structure of governments as institutional governing bodies has undergone polemic changes over the course of the last few hundred years, the manner in which a country is run, and the lines through which policy and laws are passed is something which is constantly shifting. Within democratic governments there is a political structure which allows for free elections in order for people to exercise their right to liberty and freedom, and influence who is the ruling party. A critical aspect of this structure is what we now know as the parliamentary institution or legislative assembly. The Parliament of Australia is a bicameral parliament, and according to Section 1 of the Constitution of Australia, Parliament consists of three components: the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. The upper house, the Senate, consists of 76 members: twelve for each state, and two for each mainland territory, The lower house, the House of Representatives, consists of 150 members, who represent districts known as electoral divisions, which are referred to as “electorates”. This bicameral structure allows the sovereign to remain within the government system, while also having a parliament which is intended to act in accordance with the best interests, and in consideration of the people. This parliamentary structure is intended to be a representation of the Australian people, in that the house of representatives consists of members voted in by the Australian people, however the extent to which an institutional governing body can be a representation of ‘the people’ is limited to the structure of the parliament, and the communication between the governing body and the people, this in itself is limited to an election which is held 1

http://www.word-origins.com


within the House of Representatives every three years, with state senators serving for a fixed six-year term. The idea of the parliament is one which is intended to both symbolise and embody democracy, however, it does not in itself guarantee a democratic structure within a country, “Any critical analysis of power, institutions, class interests and power-élites will contradict the simplistic notion of representative government as an expression of the people’s will through their elected representatives. However, this simple version is still relentlessly advanced by the official organs of the Parliament, that somehow the people’s will is expressed through an institution which symbolises democracy...The institution of the Parliament is a necessary, but not sufficient condition and does not of itself amount to democratic society”.2 The term parliament itself has undergone a dramatic change in meaning over the course of the last few hundred years. We can trace this change through an examination of the origin of the word, along with the contemporary meaning. The origin of the term ‘parliament’ can be found within the French verb parler ‘to talk’ Amongst its subsequent variations are parlance (16th c.), parley (16th c.), parlour (13th c.), and parliament itself. This came from the Old French derivative parlement, which originally meant ‘talk, consultation, or conference’, but soon passed to ‘formal consultative body’, and hence to ‘legislative body’. The French term ‘parler’ was a descendant of medieval Latin parabolāre ‘to talk’3. Within the evolution of the term ‘parliament’ we can already begin to see the transition from a system which is directly linked to the people of a country and their opinions, to one which is a more loosely linked, internalized system, which is a representation of the voters desires at a certain point in time, in accordance with information issued to them by the government parties. We can trace the shift from a system of government which was far more orientated towards a connection with the members of the public whom they were governing, towards a structure which is more so focused on an internalized system, delivering information to the ‘masses’ by some type of ‘Newspeak’4, with less regard for the individual opinion, through an examination into the laws which have been imposed over the masses which have informed and shaped the current systems which are used. In order to begin this we can examine a writing by Peter Sloterdijk entitled ‘Foam City’, within this piece, Sloterdijk traces and pieces together the manner in which people within a city have become less and less able to assert themselves as being a part of the ruling sovereign body, or the government institution. The piece is titled ‘foam city’ due to a view of the city as a space within which people are separated from each other, inhabiting individual universes or spheres [bubbles], sharing walls but interacting only when they come together to form a ‘foam’ in a public space. The investigation within this piece is into both the assembly of the people, the laws which have affected the ability to do this, and the containers for this assembly, with consideration being given to the role of the architect as a facilitator in this process. “Already the constitution of 1791 attempted to suppress gatherings in which the attendant crowd wanted to articulate itself as a part of the incarnate sovereign”5 The ability to assert oneself as a member of the governing party, or as a member of the parliament, despite being a part of the general society is crucial to being able to affect change within government and therefore society itself. The question then becomes, how are people being given the chance to assert themselves and have their opinions heard? How does a single person, or even a mass body of people make their voices heard all the way up to the parliament itself, returning it closer to its original meaning? Over the years, the mass assembly of people in public places has been an area of controversy, and in a sense, rightly so as the outcomes of these rallies or protests is quite unpredictable; however, that does not mean that it is not possible and necessary to have a space created for a general assembly which allows people to express their opinions, or to have a process which allows it. Through this piece Peter Sloterdijk is stating a challenge for architecture in contemporary society, to create spaces within which the masses, or rather, the individuals within society who have formed into an ensemble to create foams, can gather and express opinions and become a part of the parliament. “Considering the comparatively looser aggregation of their symbionts, moderns collectives are confronted with the challenge of creating spacial conditions that enable both the isolation of individuals, and the concentration of the isolated entities into collective ensembles of cooperation and contemplation. This calls for a new commitment on the part of architecture”. Sloterdijk states is this piece, “All power arises from the streets”6, and traces the gradual evolution towards a more passive society in contemporary times; a society which is less inclined towards asserting itself as a part of either the democratic parliament, or the sovereign body which is ruling. Within this writing there is an exploration into the various competitions and historical projects which strived to creates spaces for the assembly of the people, to bring together the masses within a national assembly, as well as the variety of means by which populations 2 3 4 5 6

James Warden. “Parliament, Democracy and Political Identity in Australia” p2 Papers on Parliament No. 25 June 1995 http://www.word-origins.com George Orwell 1984. The New American Library of World Literature 1949 Peter Sloterdijk, ‘Foam-City,’ in Log 9, Winter/Spring 2007 Peter Sloterdijk, ‘Foam-City,’ in Log 9, Winter/Spring 2007


have taken control of a space, or re-programmed space in order to create a general assembly. However, as we move further through the piece, the manner in which the state quickly took control over this assembly and turned it into a choreographed exhibition intended to create a “collective enthrallment” for the purpose of consensus, or outlawed public gatherings to suppress the population is demonstrated. This is the state of pseudo-inclusion, and a state which we must strive to move beyond if there is to be an inclusion of the public into politics rather than a state of exclusion. In order to begin to understand the manner in which the members of the public are excluded from the governing of their country, in that there is no assembly of the people in order to convey the direct opinion of the public into the parliament, we can examine the structure of parliamentary buildings, and also begin to examine the prevailing architectural style which is used in many governmental institutional buildings, and from which the state and country is governed. “The architecture of political power has a celebrated lineage. We readily associate great buildings with great regimes and the architecture of power looms at us as a lived experience. History lives through the tangible fabric of colossal buildings. The Parthenon, Notre Dame, the United States Congress, the White House, the Kremlin, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Vatican, the Pentagon, Versailles, are all expressions of Western political power in which values and ideas are written into the architecture. The architecture is intended to be awesome. Such buildings are created in order to intimidate”7 It could be said that the architecture of a capitol or a prevailing institution is designed to convey to the public or any viewer of it, the status of the institution; its aims, its goals, and, within government institutional architecture, the hopes and visions for a country and the governments relationship to its people. What then does the architecture of neoclassical buildings modelled on temples convey to the general public about their inclusion within the parliamentary process besides a statement of exclusion? When we look upon tremendous buildings such as Parliament House in Melbourne the State Library of Victoria we can begin to read and understand the code that is written into architecture; this dialogue which is established through built elements in order to write all of the intentions, visions, and history of a country into its built form. Parliament House in Melbourne is one such structure which is designed and built in the style of this lineage of political power, a style of neoclassicism and colonialism, of a remaking of the motherland in order to overcome the tyranny of distance, and also of an assertion of the power of the Sovereign. Designed by John George Knight in the early 1850’s, in a mixture of classical styles which draws from Baroque Classicism, and also borrows the Doric Columns of the Parthenon, Parliament House in Melbourne is a structure which taps into this historic expression of power of many buildings all over the world. Parliament House in Melbourne was, from 1901 until 1927, the Federal Parliament of Australia, until the official seat was moved to Canberra in 1927.

The placement for Parliament House is a statement which speaks about its heritage of power. The building sits on Spring street in Melbourne, on the highest point in the Melbourne street grid, while also sitting atop a plinth of steps, again raising it above the street and enabling it to gaze over the City of Melbourne, and at the time of its completion, over the whole of Australia. Its size is immense, far beyond human scale, demonstrating the power of the sovereign. The very size of the building, not in terms of its verticality, but is solid built form relegates any viewer to a position of being a subject to such built mass; therefore subjugating and excluding the people, demonstrating power over the masses, rather than a relationship to them. Each element of this structure, its placement, its design, and its philosophical heritage and lineage of an exhibition of power separates it from the people ‘below’ it, raises it above the street, and further away from the original meaning of a parliament, creating a concrete demonstration of the exclusion of the people from parliamentary processes. 7

James Warden. “Parliament, Democracy and Political Identity in Australia” p1 Papers on Parliament No. 25 June 1995


Long after Australia’s official Federal Parliament was moved to Canberra in 1927, a design competition was held for the design of a new Parliament House, an opportunity to shift away from this type of architectural lineage of power to a new form of power relations between government body and the people. For the Parliament House building in Canberra, part of the design brief stated that “Parliament House will, by virtue of its function, be one of the most significant buildings in Australia... It will stand for a long time and its architecture must endure through cultural and political change.”8 While the above section of the brief creates guide lines for the design of the building to the architects entering the competition, it also falls short on an opportunity to redefine the manner in which parliament operates, and also neglects to propose the concept of a general assembly for the people, or introduce additional avenues for interaction between the government and the people. One critic of political architectural theory wrote in relation to Parliament House in Canberra that, “Form does not address itself to moral questions. Once a Pope or a Medici wanted palaces: now a Labor government or a BHP wants them too.”9 When considering the design and construction of a parliamentary building, the moral and ethical relationship to its people is something which it could be said, should be at the forefront of the design goals, however many architects still seem to be quite preoccupied with iconic design of recognizable buildings and temples to the gods rather than temples of the people. The palace of a government such as we see in Canberra does fulfill its design intent as set by both the government and the architect, however, it could also be said that the design brief, and the intentions of the architects were slightly out of step with the vision for the nation and the relationship that a building such as this should have to its people; in saying this it is also quite difficult to account for the amount of change that occurs within a countries identity, and the role of the government over a period of time such that has passed. Written into the structure of parliament house, both in Canberra, and in Melbourne, is a language of ambition and vision, but also one of exclusion, they are written in different languages, however, they both translate to a similar statement when viewed independently of the design intent. In order to decipher this statement about the relationship between the Government and the Australian people, we can look at the placement of the building, the elements used, the planning and placement of chambers, and the details of the design. The most significant decision made in regard to the overall planning and design of this building is the placement of the program into the hill, essentially putting certain interior rooms underground; this is significant due to the fact that, “The grass over Parliament House allows the people to stand symbolically over government, a rather trite and quaint point”10, but it also hides some of the function of the government from the people on its exterior. This is one of the ‘moral’ and ethical questions that a public government institutional building must answer to; a building such as this cannot operate in an internalized manner when the ultimate goal of a democratic government is that there is a clear and transparent line that can be traced from the people to their government; this line becomes blurred if there is not a transparent wall between the government and the ‘people’. 11 12

8 p.6. 9 1995 10 11 12

Parliament House, Canberra, Conditions for a Two Stage Competition, Parliament House Construction Authority, vol.2, April 1979, Peter Corrigan. - James Warden. “Parliament, Democracy and Political Identity in Australia” p1 Papers on Parliament No. 25 June James Warden. “Parliament, Democracy and Political Identity in Australia” p2 Papers on Parliament No. 25 June 1995 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/05/08/2239482.htm?site=canberra http://www.engineer.org.au/chapter13.html


Another significant decision made in regard to the design of this structure is the placement of the Australian flag atop the ‘spire’ of the building, a design feature which again taps into the history of power relations between a government and both the land and its people. This flag atop Parliament House symbolizes the conquering of a country and the dominance of the current institution over the lands indigenous people. While in American culture the flag atop a government building represents the freedom of the nation, won in a war of independence, within Australian culture, the flag could be said to represent the Sovereign Motherland of England, combined with a symbol of Australia, however it also represents a violence towards the indigenous people of the land and a lack of reconciliation; this flag planted atop what in now called Capitol Hill represents the conquering of the land by the Sovereign and the dominance of this government over the indigenous people. In the previous images the vast amount of spaces held within the parliament house complex can be seen, and also that the main entree, the great hall, the members hall, and the executive government chambers are beneath the hill. Along with these main spaces being beneath the hill, many of the administration offices are also located beneath these halls and chambers, effectively placing the workers beneath the government metaphorically and physically, and also relegating them to dark positions in offices. Within this configuration the separation of the two houses of the legislative assembly by the executive government can also be seen, a configuration that could be taken as showing prominence of the sovereign power over the parliament of the people. It is stated within the Australian constitution that, “The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth.”13 The placement of the Chambers of the Executive Government between the two Houses of the Parliament, signifies the prominence of the Sovereign over the Parliament, and also the prominence of the party system over the parliamentary system. There is a vast distance between the Government of the Australian People, and the people themselves, a distance which can be seen upon an exploration into the term parliament, and into the system itself; it is also a distance and exclusion which is exhibited through the very architecture of the government institution. The disconnection and exclusion of the people from the governing of their country is among the most violent acts which can be executed upon a person, however, even if were systems in place for the interaction between the Government and the people, it is still not guaranteed that it is a freedom and liberty which will be exercised. “Liberty is a practice. So there may in fact, always be a certain number of projects whose aim is to modify some constraints, to loosen, or even break them, but none of these projects can, simply by its nature, assure that people will have liberty automatically, that it will be established by the project itself. The liberty of men is never assured by the institutions and laws intended to guarantee them. This is why almost all of these laws and institutions are capable of being turned around- not because they are ambiguous, but simply because ‘liberty’ is what must be exercised”14. The concrete proof that liberty is what must be exercised in order to promote any type of change within a larger system is the system itself, in that if liberty was being exercised and the freedom to create change embraced, the system would be changed. The Parliament would again be a government body closely linked to the people who are allocating it their power of self governance, and there would not be the violence of exclusion enacted upon the people, and furthermore, this type of change would be demonstrated through further development of Government Institutional Architecture. The very same challenge laid down by Peter Sloterdijk is still in place, the challenge for architecture to become the facilitator of change in the design of both buildings and of the fabric of the city. This is not a challenge which sets a goal which is easily reachable, the goal of this challenge is to bridge a gap between the legislative assembly of a state and a nation and the people, in order to create a general assembly either in a process or spacial sense. This concept of the general assembly of the people could reduce the exclusion of the general public from the parliament, thus moving it closer to a consultative body rather than a legislative one, and further developing a democratic society.

13 14

http://australianpolitics.com Michel Foucault, ‘Space, Knowledge and Power’ in Power, London: Penguin, 2000, p. 349-364.


Architectural Violence and Creative Resistance  

an essay regarding parliamentary structure, government institutional buildings and the relationship to the public

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