Designing for Democracy: The Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster

Led by Professor Matthew Flinders, Designing for Democracy is a major inter-disciplinary research and public engagement project that examines how the design of our parliamentary buildings affects the way our politicians act and how the public views politics.

An view of the Houses of Parliament in London from across the River Thames

The Palace of Westminster is a Grade 1 listed building and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but there are significant problems with the Palace’s infrastructure (leaking pipes, ill-fitting windows, fire risks, crumbling stonework, etc.). The Restoration and Renewal Programme was therefore established in 2012 in order to tackle these critical issues in order to ensure that the Palace of Westminster can continue to serve as home to the UK Parliament into the 21st century and beyond. Designing for Democracy seeks to research and promote the value of a meaningful public conversation about the future of a building that serves, as well as represents, their democracy.

Winston Churchill famously argued that ‘we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us’ in order to defend the need to keep the House of Commons Chamber as it was before it was destroyed in the Second World War. Designing for Democracy, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, builds upon this idea to focus on the ‘renewal’ aspect of the Restoration and Renewal Programme, in order to create a national positive conversation about a democracy that looks to the future instead of the past. Designing for Democracy researches how R&R is an opportunity to redesign an institution, encouraging discussions about openness, collaboration and inclusivity in order to open-up the processes of parliament to the broader public.

Project Aim and Objectives

To support the Restoration and Renewal Programme for the Palace of Westminster through the provision of world-class academic research and public engagement to ensure the development of a Parliament fit for the 21st century. The ‘Designing for Democracy’ project combines academic research and public engagement in order to support and underpin the Restoration and Renewal Programme. In this sense it has two simple and inter-linked aims:

  1. Research: To bring together a world-class team of scholars and research-users to undertake theoretically informed but policy relevant research across a range of disciplines that add real value and insight to the restoration and renewal process as it moves forward.
  2. Engagement: To use this research to cultivate a major national conversation about the Restoration and Renewal Programme that draws the public into the discussion, design and planning process in positive and innovative ways.

These objectives have been designed to underpin the agreed Programme Objectives in terms of mitigating risks, delivering value for money, maximizing efficiency, ensuring heritage protection and in accommodating the needs of a 21st Century Parliament.

The Current Team

Professor Matthew Flinders, Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Alexandra Anderson, Postdoctoral Research Associate.

Alexandra Meakin, Research Associate and Crick Centre PhD Student.


Research Outputs

Media and Blogs