This month Politics & Pizza, the Caerleon Labour Youth Group visited Cardiff Bay for a guided tour of the Senedd by Jayne Bryant MS. The group was treated to an insightful exploration of the award winning building created by architect Lord Richard Rogers, designer of the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyd’s of London building who passed away last December aged 88.
The 5,308-square-metre Senedd building was opened by the Queen on Saint David’s Day 2006 at the total cost of £69.6 million, which is significantly less than the £414 million cost of Hollyrood, the Scottish Parliament building. The whole group was impressed by the environmental foresight of the then National Assembly for Wales which is clearly demonstrated in the project design criteria requiring the building to be an exemplar of sustainability, including a design life of 100 years, the use of local Welsh materials, minimal energy consumption and waste.
In total, 36% of all materials and labour costs were spent in Wales, which included around 1,000 tonnes of Welsh slate from Blaenau Ffestiniog. The environmental features allow energy savings of between 30% and 50% compared to buildings without these features. The features include 27 pipes that were drilled 100m below ground, so that during cold spells, water is pumped through the pipes and heated to 14 °C by geothermal energy. The hot water is then pumped back up to the slate floor to warm the building to a constant temperature. In warm spells (and we visited on one of the hottest days of the year) the same system helps to keep the building cool and we all agreed how comfortable the interior of the building seemed without the use of air conditioning . A biomass boiler is used to burn wood chips from recycled waste wood from a local furniture manufacturer to heat the building, and rainwater is collected from the roof to flush the toilets in the building.
The debating chamber itself is a naturally aspirated space, temperature controlled via the dramatic bell form which pierces the roof plane and disperses hot air while a fan mechanism draws in cooler air which is dispersed to cooling rings around the fluted ceiling.
Jonathan Glancey, Architecture and Design editor at The Guardian, in his article Made in Wales, romantically described the building as;
“Rising on three levels from a great stepped slate plinth leading up from the water’s edge, embracing the buildings and public spaces around it, and reaching through its crystal-clear interiors, the building is at once ultra-modern and classical. With persuasive intelligence, the architects have shaped a building with echoes of the ancient Greek agora, or marketplace, and of a Greek temple. Imagine this airy building flanked with Doric columns and fronted before and behind with heroic porticoes and you will get the idea: a modern Acropolis overlooking a bay that bobs with leisure boats. But, because this was always intended to be the very model of a modern major civic monument, it has no columns or pediments, in fact no old-fashioned visual references whatsoever. Instead its walls are mostly glass, while its deep-eaved roof, echoing the sway of the nearby sea, evokes the sight of a lull of waves lapping into shore. This adventurous roof is held up by stick-thin steel columns, and the whole structure serves as an umbrella, or parasol, protecting the public spaces, reception areas, courtyards, cafe, members’ tearoom, exhibition space, committee rooms and debating chamber clustered beneath it. The idea of the design is as clear as the structure itself. The building is meant to be as transparent as possible, evoking and encouraging the notion of open government. The public will be able to walk up the great slate plinth, into and around the building, and look down on members of the Assembly in full rhetorical flight.”
The Senedd building was awarded “Excellent” certification by BREEAM in 2006, the highest ever awarded in Wales. Later the building was listed in the Architects Journal’s top 50 favourite buildings and went on to to be nominated for the for the 2006 Stirling Prize awarded by the Royal Institute if British Architects.
As you would expect (given the name of the group), the visit to the seat of Welsh politics was followed up by Pizza and Icecream in Mermaid Quay.