When Berlin-based architect Hansjoerg Goeritz won the commission to design a new parliament building for the tiny principality of Liechtenstein in 2000 he considered it a once-in-a-lifetime architectural journey. “To design a parliament for a nation of just under 37,000 inhabitants in the heart of Europe – these things just don’t happen.” Today the statelet’s capital Vaduz is graced with a steeply pitched building that is in tune with the surrounding Alpine landscape and is the centrepiece of a newly defined governmental mini-quarter.
In his search for a style that could convey the importance of the parliament, Goeritz settled on a north-German-style roofline, referencing the guild halls of Lübeck and Hamburg. And the Teutonic touch complements the neighbouring 1910 government building very well. The architect wanted to steer away from gaudy iconic symbolism. His formula instead was to create an “elementary house”, a simple structure in which the future of the country could be discussed. Liechtensteiners now have a Landtag that is suitably imposing but has an undeniable civic charm.
The democratic principle is reflected throughout the project. The same approach was taken by the design team in selecting the materials used. Exposed bricks convey integrity. Goeritz also cites this as part of the cultural interchange that has long criss-crossed the Alps. The pale beige of the clay bricks means the parliament fits perfectly with the national bank, archives and government building in the square outside too.
Leichtenstein’s manufacturing capabilities are not focused on construction materials and so the bricks were imported from neighbouring Switzerland. The tiny country’s industry relies on other products; it is, for instance, the world’s largest maker of false teeth. It also has more registered companies (74,000) than inhabitants.
The interior of the parliament is dominated by the plenary chamber, which occupies the full height of the cavern created by the sharp roofline. Liechtenstein’s 25 elected senators sit in a perfect circle. “I wanted everything to happen under one roof,” says Goeritz, and indeed the area reserved for the press and citizens is a matter of feet away from where their representatives are seated. The building caters for the needs of these members, who are not career politicians but rather “working local people”, as Goeritz points out. The lighting and acoustics have been carefully designed to round-off the atmosphere of a home-parliament.
This is a beautiful and unusual project, inside and out, which is fitting because it’s the parliament of a very unusual little country. Hardly the size of an average metropolitan borough but enormously wealthy, Liechtenstein only gave women the right to vote in 1984. Despite this, a working, national institution has been masterfully created. “I wanted to create a timeless building,” says Goeritz. “This means combining the minimum and maximum from the past, present and future.” As preponderous as this may sound, in Liechtenstein this seems entirely manageable.
Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest countries, with an area of just 160 sq km – roughly the same size as the New York borough of Queens. Liechtensteiners are well represented politically: the parliament, or Landtag, has 25 members plus seven deputies, meaning that voters have more politicians per head than most Europeans have doctors. The country elects “part-time parliamentarians” who have a political function but keep their day-jobs. The country is a mixed constitutional democracy, where power is shared by the prince and the parliament. The prince, Hans Adam II, has extensive powers and an estimated fortune of €3.7bn, making him one of the world’s richest leaders. GDP per capita is just over €100,000 – the world’s second highest after Monaco.