Exploring the Architecture of Parliaments – How visible is Democracy?

Open Panel

Political science has tended to consider architecture merely as the backdrop for more interesting things: how and why political decisions are made, and what roles actors and institutions play in the political process. Yet politics and political systems manifest themselves in their architecture, and physical representations of public institutions can tell us much about how states see themselves, and how they conceive of their relationship with their citizens.
In many countries, the external and internal design of buildings housing political institutions is inextricably linked to the structure of power of the political system in question. Political architecture reveals which outward impression states wish to project, what relative status different institutions have, and how they understand their own roles. But political architecture not only reflects the formal system of government; political identity and culture are also expressed though the location, size, architectural style, interior design, or transparency of political buildings. These complex relationships between a state’s institutions, and the political culture are particularly salient in the case of parliaments, which are tasked with making representation tangible. Examples range from the open space of the ancient Athenian agora, to former royal residences like the Palais Bourbon, seat of the French National Assembly, to 20th century brutalist buildings such as Lithuania’s Seimas Palace. In past decades, attempts have increasingly been made to make democratic representation visible through transparency and openness to citizens.
We invite papers investigating parliaments and representation through this novel lens. What do ‘democratic’ buildings tell us about the work of institutions, their interactions, and their link to their citizens? How can the functioning – or even quality – of democracy be linked to urban geography of capitals, the external and internal architecture of its parliaments, or the transformations of these elements over time? Has there been a diffusion of architectural models? How is art used in these public spaces? In short, papers should ask what parliamentary architecture can tell us about politics, both at the national or sub-national level. The panel is open to single case studies, as well as comparative work with small or larger case numbers.