The Houses of Parliament

M. H. Port

Publicaton Date
May 1976
Standard Number
Yale University Press
352 pages

The great Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, was the largest building of its time and a significant technological achievement. Erect in the face of bitter controversy over its appearance and cost, it nevertheless soon won the popular approval that has made it one of the best-known and most widely admired buildings in the world.

This authoritative study of the design, construction, and decoration of the building takes into consideration political, social, technological, and economic factors, as well as artistic ones. It first considers Parliament’s need for purpose-built accommodation after the fire of 1834 destroyed the existing building. The resulting architectural competitions are explored and related to the struggle for professional status among contemporary architects. Phoebe Stanton, the noted authority on Pugin, then analyses the winning collaboration between Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. Michael Port examines the fluctuations of public opinion during construction and relates these pressures to the architects’ response. He also assesses the contribution of Edward Barry, who completed the work initiated by his father.

In addition to its comprehensive treatment of the Houses of Parliament as a major episode in architectural history and in building technology, the book considers the building’s role as a ‘Palace of Art’, with descriptions of the paintings, sculpture, metal work, stained glass, and the neo-Gothic furniture designed by Pugin. The ample monochrome illustrations, the eleven colour plates and the frontispiece printed by hand from the original wood blocks designed by Pugin do justice to this irresistible monument of Victorian architecture.