Houses of Parliament London Building Restoration, Palace of Westminster Renewal News, Refurb

Palace of Westminster London Restoration

22 October 2021

Experts investigate crumbling stonework and hidden cracks in the Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament Building Restoration News

Palace of Westminster Building Restoration

Crumbling stones, cracking ceilings and warping windows in the Houses of Parliament were the subject of several thousand hours of recent investigations by teams of experts from across the UK, as part of work to plan the essential restoration of the Palace of Westminster.

Over 50 highly skilled engineers, architectural surveyors, acoustics and lighting specialists, and ecologists, spent a combined 4,700 hours over Parliament’s recent recess period investigating the building and continuing to build the most detailed record of the 150-year-old Palace of Westminster ever created.

Houses of Parliament Building Restoration News

In total, 2,343 rooms and spaces were examined over the summer and conference recesses, with experts recording thousands of issues including cracks in stonework, widespread water damage, and analysing the complex network of outdated electrical and mechanical systems.

The investigations are an essential step in the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. Parliament will be invited to approve the detailed restoration plan in 2023.

Houses of Parliament London Building from River Thames | www.e-architect.com
photograph © Nick Weall

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Leader of the House of Commons, said:
“The Houses of Parliament building is recognised the world over as a symbol of our nation, but this building requires a considerable level of care to keep it working and needs an essential programme of restoration work.

“We must be able to justify this project to taxpayers. That’s why it’s so important to understand and map out the restoration work needed to protect the building – so that the focus is on those essential works necessary to preserve the Palace for future generations.”

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Leader of the House of Lords:
“This preparation survey work of the Palace of Westminster is essential to understand the extent and complexity of the programme of works required. In due course it will enable parliamentarians to properly scrutinise the proposed work and ensure value for money.”

Palace of Westminster renewal work

Issues were recorded with many of the historic features, including original Victorian stained-glass windows which are warping and sagging due to age. Surveyors also studied the enormous basement and the miles of outdated and interweaving gas, electrics, water, sewage, and heating pipes to get up to date records on the problems that need fixing.

The Palace of Westminster is one of the most loved and recognised buildings in the world, but despite a programme of maintenance works, it’s falling apart faster than it can be fixed and is in urgent need of a programme of essential restoration.

Houses of Parliament Palace of Westminster London Building | www.e-architect.com
photo © Nick Weall

Work was also done to understand the provenance of quirky candle and gas light fittings, some of which were discovered to have been turned upside down when converted to electric power over 100 years ago. Further investigation is ongoing but it is thought the Palace may contain the oldest still-in-use gas lighting system in the world. Several remarkable candle chandeliers that survived the great fire of 1834 which destroyed the original palace were also studied and recorded.

Acoustics experts, considering how to improve audibility within the building, walked 240km, measuring 80 rooms, running 300 individual acoustics tests, taking 2000 measurements.

Houses of Parliament Building Restoration News

Experts in ecology and door specialists from Manchester, window surveyors from Glasgow and architects and engineers from across London, in addition to historic surveyors and specialists from Cambridge, Suffolk and Hampshire were involved in the building investigations.

Sarah Johnson, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal Sponsor Body, said:
“The essential programme to restore the deteriorating Palace of Westminster will protect our world-famous Parliament for generations to come. These critical and complex investigations are already informing our detailed restoration plan, which will for the first time set out a true sense of the costs and timescales of the much-needed work.”

Palace of Westminster refurbishment work 2021

David Goldstone, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration & Renewal Delivery Authority, said:
“Our specialist investigators and surveyors are spending tens of thousands of hours building the most detailed record of Parliament ever created as we develop the plan for the essential restoration of one of the world’s most famous buildings.”

In winter and throughout next year, even more detailed surveys, including ‘intrusive’ surveys into the structure of the Palace, will be completed to continue building the most detailed record of the Palace ever created.

Parliament’s repair teams run continual maintenance work to ensure people working and visiting the building are safe, but a larger programme of essential restoration work is needed to protect the building for the future.

The Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal will create thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships, while boosting both traditional and cutting-edge skills, involving craftspeople and businesses from across the UK in a national effort.

Houses of Parliament Building Restoration News

Palace of Westminster Building Facts

Background facts:
• The Palace of Westminster is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of most recognisable buildings in the world.
• The building is constructed from Anston limestone and has a floorplan the size of 16 football pitches with 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases, three miles of passageways, four floors and 65 different levels.
• The Palace is at high risk of sudden failure from major fire, flood or stone fall. The heating, ventilation, water, and electrical systems are out-dated and steam pipes run alongside electrical cables throughout the building.
• Over 40,000 problems with the building have been reported since 2017.
• In the basement there are 128 plant rooms and 98 risers, only one of which has been fully restored to modern standards. There are seven miles of steam pipes and 250 miles of cabling, all of which need to be stripped out.
• Thousands of ventilation shafts spreading the length and breadth of the building need upgrading to protect against a major fire. A team of fire wardens patrol the building 24/7 to spot and manage fires or incidents which could lead to a fire, and a new water misting system was installed in the last few years.
• It costs £2m a week to keep the building going, with the annual cost of maintenance and ongoing projects recently doubling – rising from £62 million in 2016 to £127 million in 2019, totalling £369m over the four-year period.
• The sewage ejector system installed in 1888 is still in use today.
• Hundreds of miles of cabling need replacing, more than 1,000 spaces contain asbestos, and most of the nearly 4,000 bronze windows need repair.
• The building contains four floors with 65 different levels meaning it is not well designed for people with disabilities and some areas can be very difficult to access.
• There are over 11,000 historic items, including historic furniture, clocks, silver and ceramics, all of which will need to be temporarily removed and taken care of during restoration.
• Parliament already works with specialists across the whole country, for example, sourcing encaustic tiles from Ironbridge; cast iron roof tiles from Halifax, Sheffield, and Chard; limestone from Doncaster and Clipsham; slate from Ffestiniogg, north Wales.

Palace of Westminster restoration work 2021

Historical Light fitting observations:

• The light fittings throughout the Palace represent nearly every phase of technology implemented in each decade since construction.
• The highest quality fittings of Augustus Pugin, Charles Barry or George Gilbert Scott have many high-quality replicas, we are researching in detail screw heads and junctions to determine age. Many ages and adaptations exist within each fitting.
• Some gas fittings or armatures / frameworks are still in use having been adapted to electrification or later modified in the 1950s. This also includes many fittings implemented in the first electrification of the 1880s. See attached archive images to see how an early gas light fitting was flipped upside-down when converted to electric to improve light.
• A range of hexagonal fittings have evolved since the 1920s to become the primary aesthetic throughout the palace. We have traced the oldest fittings to be local to the Central Lobby.
• Many Flemish lanterns throughout the dining areas and library corridors are from the 1920s and have greater significance and quality than previously assumed.
• Several large Flemish fittings survived the fire of 1843 and are from the previous Courts of Requests.
• Gas fittings in New Palace Yard are a mix of original installations and some that were put in place later during the reign of George VI, as well as modern refurbishments. These gas fittings could be part of the oldest still-in-use gas lighting in the world.

Palace of Westminster building restoration work 2021

Other survey information:

• Visual Condition Surveys: These major visual walkaround surveys inspected 2,343 spaces in order to gather information on the condition and structural defects of the building.
• Bird surveys: Assessment of bird presence at the Houses of Parliament, listening and recording birds at peak times of the day including dawn and dusk.
• Ecology surveys: The Victoria Tower has been famous for nesting Peregrine Falcons, where the high level, intricate stonework replicates their natural habitat in an urban setting. This survey looked at the internal roof space voids and plant rooms to look for signs of nesting birds and bats that would need to be identified prior to any construction works taking place.
• Windows Design Study: Experts surveyed and recorded the operation and fixing of some of the nearly 3,000 original windows in the Palace of Westminster, from original Victorian bronze framed windows to magnificent stained glass in Westminster Hall.
• Basement Inspection: Surveyors accessed spaces within the cramped basement to record and view structural arrangements. These visits allowed surveyors a better understanding of the types of works that will be required to renovate and renew critical services in the building, many of which are over 100 years old.
• Door Study: The Palace of Westminster has a wide range of ancient and historic doors that are central to the history of the nation. The survey performed a visual inspection of heritage doors in Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Chapel, and the Central Lobby to establish materials, finish, and artistic ironmongery. They will be assessed against requirements for fire resistance, security and acoustic properties.
• Room Study: A visual inspection consisting of 20 spaces including the Lords Chamber, Libraries and Westminster Hall. The surveyors reviewed and recorded existing mechanical, electrical and plant details. This survey will allow the surveyors to obtain a better understanding of the types of works that that may be required to service these rooms and the heritage impact.

Houses of Parliament Building Restoration News received 221021

Previously on e-architect:

16 June 2021

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Parliament restoration programme invites public to share ideas and views on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster building viewed across the River Thames from the south:
Palace of Westminster building viewed across the River Thames
photograph © UK Parliament
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Palace of Westminster London
photo courtesy of architects Foster + Partners
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Photos © UK Parliament unless stated otherwise

Palace of Westminster in London
photo from architects

Palace of Westminster London Restoration

Temporary UK Parliament on the River Thames
Temporary UK Parliament on the River Thames by Gensler London
picture © Project Posiedon
Houses of Parliament on the River Thames in London

Built: 1840-68
Architects: Barry + Pugin
Large Victorian Gothic Building

Palace of Westminster London

Location: Parliament Square, London, SW1, England, UK

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