Assembly by Rogers
At the opening ceremony in March, the Queen said she hoped the building would become as important a symbol as the Houses of Parliament were. She praised the "skill and imagination of those who've designed and constructed this remarkable example of modern architecture."
The National Assembly for Wales occupies a harbor-side site once known for its coal exporting trade. At the time of the International design competition for the project, the site was a relatively unused and poorly developed part of the Welsh capital of Cardiff. The project is now the cornerstone to a regeneration area, near the new Millennium Centre arts complex by Welsh architects Percy Thomas Partnership, (now Capita Percy Thomas).
In the Spotlight
The world renowned, London-based Richard Rogers Partnership (RRP) won the international design competition for the Assembly building in 1998, but the politics surrounding the building led to considerable delays, with the opening more than six years behind schedule.
As is often the case with high-profile, publicly funded projects, unrealistic budget expectations caused much of the delay — although the final cost was less than 10 percent of the controversial £500 million Scottish Parliament. As political pressures escalated, RRP was briefly but dramatically fired in 2001 by the Welsh finance secretary and then reinstated with a new contract.
Even before it broke ground, the building became legendary not for its design but for the saga of its construction. "It was very frustrating," said Lord Rogers at the opening ceremony, downplaying the drama when asked about the delays.
"It started very well and then for a number of different reasons it got bogged down, and there was a certain moment when we thought it would never be built. But fortunately," he continued optimistically, "as that's why we're here, it has been built, and now we're much more interested in the future."
The result may well have been worth the wait. RRP's vision for the project, in response to the challenging site and brief, was to create an open, glazed facade facing the water. This later became a steel and glass wall due to security concerns following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Sheltering the facade is a dramatic sweeping roof, expressing the resolve of the clients to create a transparent, democratic building that encourages people to engage with local politics. The strategy is enormously successful as both an urban gesture and a design element.
The main entry space feels airy and open, flooded with daylight and ample natural ventilation. Framing views to the waterfront, the pavilion-like building sits sympathetically on the site. Inside, the canopy is even more dramatic as the roof form is pulled through to the lower floor to form a funnel-like enclosure for the debating chamber below. The rounded, organic form, with engineering by Arup, looks a bit like a mushroom with a wood-clad stalk.
Rather than entering from the glazed facade facing the water, visitors enter at a security point at the side of the building, through a less grand but more expedient and secure entry. The public is welcomed inside the ground-floor lobby with its slate floors and a grand staircase up to the mezzanine. Visitors can come for a coffee, to admire the views toward the water, or to look down into the debating chamber, the circular room below the center of the space.
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