The Palace of Westminster was completed in the 1860s as the purpose-built home of the British Parliament, housing the House of Commons and House of Lords. It is one of the world’s most famous and recognisable buildings and an international symbol of parliamentary democracy.
The Houses of Parliament are in urgent need of repair, and while strategies were developed for the long-term overhaul of the building, set to commence in 2020, a review of the key aspects of the heating, cooling and power systems identified that some of them were life-expired and nearing the point of failure.
WSP was appointed to provide project management of the resulting £70m medium term programme whose primary purpose was to reduce the risk of failure of the most critical aspects of the electrical, heating, ventilation and cooling systems, creating time to plan the essential, fuller modernisation of the Palace. These efforts also addressed the operational energy efficiency of the listed building as part of the Government’s wider public sector commitment to reduce carbon emissions by at least 34% by 2020.
Beginning with the extensive surveying, tracing and recording of the existing mechanical and electrical services, the team developed critical knowledge regarding the existing systems within the Palace, many of which, ranging from 20 – 110 years, had never been fully mapped. While the M&E systems were primarily located in the basement, they branched out to other floors and uncharted parts of the estate. Repairs implemented over the years to keep the system operating made it difficult to modify the existing systems without disruption. Access restrictions, the hidden nature of the works and the presence of asbestos created additional challenges. The building’s Grade 1 listing and World Heritage Site status added further dimensions to an already technically complex project.
Additionally, the Palace of Westminster is constructed on a medieval site and the uncovering of pre-Tudor archaeology required adherence to protocols to record and preserve important national heritage.
This project was the first time that such a scale of works was undertaken at the building while the facility was fully occupied. It was vital that there should be no disruption to the ongoing business of the nation and the 3,000 occupants of the Palace, who included peers and MPs, operations and maintenance staff, facility management teams, other contractors working on adjacent projects, security and police staff, conservation and heritage professionals, catering staff and the general public. We interfaced with many of these groups through a programme of collaboration and proactive communication.
The Palace of Westminster now has a fully functioning, automated system that will operate at a far greater efficiency than previous systems. In addition, record drawings and digital backups now exist for the full facility, enable future developers to tackle projects, including the planned long-term modernisation works, with ease and efficiency.