What does your parliament say about your nation? After dispatching our correspondents around the world for this vote winning issue, it seems like rather a lot. Head to Burma’s new capital of Naypyidaw (see page 72) and try and get access to any of that nation’s key institutions and you’ll find doors closed, not opened, for you. Everything about this fledgling capital’s design – parliament included – hints at the scheming of paranoid generals, of leaders who don’t trust the people but who want to suggest that everything is going swimmingly.
The architecture is a mix of the epic and the banal: the parliament’s chamber looks like a cross between a hotel ballroom and an out-of-town cinema. And that’s not a good thing. The country is now tentatively trying to ease its way back to democracy. But you can’t help feeling that the very architecture of Naypyidaw will work against this by making the process of governing by consensus near impossible. The fabric of the institutions is just so cold and unwelcoming. No wonder analysts whisper that if the country ever does get its act together, the parliament should return to Rangoon.
Meanwhile in Liechtenstein, the Berlin-based architect Hansjoerg Goeritz has created a new parliament (see page 120) for a nation of just under 37,000 people that reflects both tradition and an eagerness to be a little more modern too. Built in the capital, Vaduz, it sits in the city without any nasty security barriers to keep the people away (you can actually walk up and peep through the windows at the proceedings within).
Liechtenstein has not got the greatest democratic past – it only relented and gave women the vote in 1984 – and also has a reputation for being a bit of a feudal landlocked principality. But its new parliament makes it clear that there has been some change at the top. The country seems to want to make its government more open and its workings literally more transparent. Although the 25 mps are unlikely to ever risk proposing the foundation of a republic in this Alpine aerie.
Despite parliaments such as Estonia’s embracing the concept of remote voting, it’s clear that developing nations and organisations on the up need buildings to match and reflect their aspirations. For this issue our senior editor found herself flying between the new Sámi parliament (p171) and the freshly built African Union HQ in Addis Ababa (p33). In two starkly different settings she found people given pride and purpose by architecture. Good news.
Yet as we have walked corridors of power in recent months we have noticed that, especially in Europe, our MPs are a little spooked. They fear backing any expenditure that they might benefit from. They would rather invite visiting dignitaries into a ramshackle office than spend money on even a new carpet.
This is wrong. Parliaments reflect all of our aspirations and we should want the heart of government to be inspiring and efficient – a display of national pride and skills. And if that involves spending some money, then so be it. Just don’t let Naypyidaw’s architects loose with their marble and chandelier chic.