The Lost (First) Chamber of the House of Commons

Article English OPEN
Schoenefeldt, Henrik (2016)
  • Publisher: The Architectural Association, London
  • Subject: D1 | D204 | TA | TD

The articles retraces the development of the first ventilation system in the British House of Commons, which was designed by the physician David Boswell Reid between 1847 and 1852. This was only operational for two years, before it was decommissioned and replaced with a new system. Reid, who was referred to as the 'ventilator' of the Houses of Parliament, worked closely with Barry's team of architects and civil engineers to apply his system to architectural plans that had been developed before his employment in Westminster. Various scholars have argued that Reid's limited technical knowledge and skills was a barrier to his ability to successfully collaborate with architects and engineers. He was trained as a physician not as an engineer or architect. \ud \ud This critique, however, detracts from the significant influence that his distinctive scientific and medical background had on the unique concept behind the ventilation system or the empirical working methods used in its development. In this articles the original letters and drawings used in the communication between the two offices are used to show that Reid's contribution lies primarily in the development of the design of concept, underpinned by experiments inside temporary structures in Edinburgh and Westminster. In several textbooks Reid illustrates the science behind the natural movement of air induced by atmospheric pressure, gravity or thermal buoyancy, and also how it can be studied experimentally in the laboratory or applied in the context of ventilation. Moreover, he used research methods originating in the fields of chemistry and medicine to evaluate the performance of environmental technologies from the perspective of human physiology and perception. Reid's approach was distinctive through its focus on the human and environmental rather than the technical aspects, but Reid relied on engineers to fully develop his concepts. The drawings that Reid submitted to Barry's team were schematic, and the engineers in Barry's office fully developed his ideas on a technical level. This included the production of technical details and their incorporation into the working drawings. Reid provided skills and perspectives that were different from both engineers and architects and the challenge was the successful integration of different bodies of knowledge and sets of skills into architectural design process. His skills and perspective resembles more closely that of the modern environmental design consultant than that of building services engineers with their strong mechanical engineering focus. The design of the Palace of Westminster was cross-disciplinary endeavour which required a fundamental understanding of the role of each specialist discipline involved.
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