Retracing the evolution of the Houses of Parliament’s historic ventilation system – 1835-1854

Research Colloquium Lecture – For architecture postgraduate students and academic staff

Speaker: Dr. Henrik Schoenefeldt

Up until the 1940s the Palace of Westminster was ventilated by a system of ventilation turrets and towers  that had been originally developed by teams of engineers, architects and scientists in the mid-nineteenth century. These stacks were designed to exploit the natural buoyancy of hot air to drive foul air out of the building. These utilised waste heat from fire places, gas lighting and people, but at times were assisted by coke fires or steam jets.

The talk will show the most recent findings of Henrik’s research into the Houses of  Parliament’s Victorian ventilation system. It focuses on the evolution of the design for the stack ventilation strategy  over the period between 1835, when the physician and chemist David Boswell Reid first proposed and subsequently tested his scheme for a stack driven ventilation system in a series of full-scale model debating chambers,  and the late 1850’s, when a final arrangement had been adopted. This remained in constant use up-until the 1920s. Past historical studies on the Palace of Westminster have focused largely on David Boswell Reid’s original plans for ventilating the Palace, but archival research conducted by the speaker over the past three years has revealed that these plans were never fully implemented.  Instead his original  scheme was abandoned in 1846, largely due to the high complexity of the design process. The project team struggled with establishing a workable system for managing the communication and workflow within a largely cross-disciplinary design team, involving engineers, scientists, and architects. This illuminated the difficulties with reconciling the specific working methods of architects and scientists in 19th century architecture. In 1847 a  new master plan was implemented by Charles Barry, Alfred Meeson and Michael Faraday, which had a significant influence on architectural character of the Palace.  The implemented system was modified again in 1854 under the direction of the engineer Goldsworthy Gurney.

Reid’s proposal, let alone the ventilation system schemes implemented in 1846 and 1854 has not been studied in any great depth before, let alone the role of scientific experiments, environmental monitoring and observation studies in its development. Extensive archival evidence of the historic design has survived, which included technical reports, historic architectural drawings, technical details, and the original project correspondence. The scientific and technical literature of the mid-nineteenth also includes numerous illustrations and detailed written commentaries on the historic systems and the underlying environmental design objectives. This archival material is used to reconstruct (a) Reid’s original ventilation scheme (1840-46), (b) the new scheme implemented after 1846 and (c) the remodelling of the ventilation arrangements in the mid-1850s. This research has illustrated, among others, how the Victorian explored ways of ventilating large public buildings with minimal mechanical aids and the technical and managerial challenges it posed.

The research project:

This talks is based on a larger research project on the Houses of Parliament’s Victorian ventilation system that Henrik has been conducting at the University of Kent since autumn 2011. The primary aim of the project is to develop a critical understanding of the historic system, first by retracing the design development, second by reconstructing its design and third by analysing its actual performance. The latter is based largely on historic measurements recorded as part of the routine monitoring and control procedures, eyewitness reports as well as the numerous observational studies and scientific experiments  based   historic system.  Following the recommendation of the House of Commons Commission Henrik has been acting  been acting as consultant on the Palace Restoration Programme. Henrik has submitted three reports and has delivered several talks at Westminster on the historic ventilation system. The current focus of this collaboration is on ventilation of the House of Lords debating chamber and the River Front. Henrik’s most recent publication on this subject is:  Schoenefeldt, Henrik, ‘The Palace of Westminster and Reid’s architecture of experimentation’, Architectural History, 57- 2014, pp. 173-213.

British Council selects students for Venice Fellowship

Kent School of Architecture is pleased to announce that two of its MArch Part II students have been selected for a work-study fellowship at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Jasmine Davey (4th Year) and Jessica Ringrose (5th Year) will each spend a month in the beautiful city of Venice and right in the heart of the 2014 Biennale, directed by Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas. This year’s theme is ‘Absorbing Modernity: 1914 – 2014’, which will be subject to much debate, discussion and create a fresh understanding of the world’s take on the development of Modernist ideas. The British Pavilion will host ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’: how international influences of Modernism have mixed with long-standing British sensibilities. From around the UK and beyond, a total of 50 students from 12 architecture schools and institutions will each be supported by a financial grant to take on this work-study opportunity in the world’s most important architectural festival that will run from June to November this year.

Jasmine (who will be in Venice in September) and Jessica (who will be going in June) will spend four days a week invigilating the exhibition in the British Pavilion. Both have proved through the application process that they are reliable, organised and competent for the task of overseeing the day-to-day running of the pavilion and, in essence, become the public faces of the exhibition. In addition, Jasmine and Jessica will spend three days a week undertaking a research project focusing on ‘Absorbing Modernity’ and can stretch their investigations to cover a number of core sub-themes and evolving ideas. They will ultimately be producing a written piece that centres on individual conclusions, which will then be published.

Jasmine says: It is a rare, fortunate opportunity to get a chance to be a part of the Biennale. I am really grateful KSA have made this a possibility. The application had quite specific questions that got you thinking about the theme for the Biennale this year, so it will be interesting to see how the study I take on will develop from the interests I have about architectural developments from 1914-2014. At the moment, I think I would like to research what cultural gems we choose preserve (I see preservation as something that only became important after 1914 and is interesting to look at alongside the modernisation of design) or something to do with the avant guarde movement.”

Jessica says: “Almost every architecture CV has the same information; whether a person has done Part I, II, III etc. so this experience will add something else to my CV. I am very much interested in the National Identity of Architecture, but as I will be in Venice, I would probably look into the identities of other countries featured. I think Absorbing Modernity is how we present ourselves to others, how Britain is distinguished and do we actually export anything influential to other countries?”

This week, the two students will be attending a three day residential induction school in London, in order to network with other Biennale Fellows, staff and receive pre-departure information and advice. We at KSA wish Jessica and Jasmine the very best of luck in their preparations leading up to their fellowships and, of course, congratulate them in becoming suitable ambassadors for this unique event.

For more information about the Venice Biennale, click here.

-Srimathi Aiyer (Stage 4)

Passivhaus: workshop launches new research

The principal investigator of the project, Dr. Henrik Schoenfeldt, together with Doug Smith from tp Bennett, held a workshop in Maidstone to kick-start a new research project entitled: ‘Interrogating the technical, economic and cultural challenges of delivering the passivhaus standard in the UK’. Guest speakers are James Anwyl from Eurobuilt, the architect Richard Hawkes. Three third year undergraduate, 10 post-graduate students from the Kent school of architecture and Tanisha Raffiuddin from the Passivhaus Trust also attended.

The aim of the research project is to conduct an in-depth investigation into the technical, economic and cultural challenges associated with implementing the German PH standard in England through 13 detailed case studies of PH certified buildings completed since 2009. The project will involve a collaboration between academic researchers, industry and post-graduate students. Richard Hawkes (Hawkes architects) Doug Smith (tp Bennett) and James Anwyl (Eurobuilt) have agreed to provide financial and/or in-kind support for the project. Jon Bootland from the Passivhaus Trust has also shown an interest in establishing a research collaboration.

The workshop agenda was:



08.15                            Coach leaves Keynes College bus stop, Canterbury UofK Campus

09.00                            Arrive at Rock House, Boughton Monchelsea

09.00 -09.30                  Continental Breakfast

09.30                            Introduction to workshop by Doug Smith, tp Bennett and Henrik Schoenefeldt, University of Kent

09.45                            Project Brief/Q&A: The scope and themes of the passivhaus case studies

10.15                            ‘The Passivhaus Standards and Design Principles’, by Henrik Schoenefeldt

10.45                            Tea/Coffee

11.00                            ‘Crossways, Staplehurst’ by Richard Hawkes

11.30                            ‘The Contractors View’ by James Anwyl, Director of Eurobuild

12.00                            Panel discussion with Richard and James

12.30                            Site Visit

1.00                              Lunch

2.00                              Brainstorming workshop – How can we apply passivhaus principles to Rock Court site?

3.30                              Tea/Coffee

3.45                              Presentation of workshop findings and critique with Doug Smith and Henrik Schoenefeldt

4.45                              Final Q&A session

5.15                              Leave for Canterbury UofK Campus

CASE Lecture by Prof. Simos Yannas

Prof. Simos Yannis will be delivering the next CASE lecture at the Kent School of Architecture 6pm, 5th February 2013.

Prof. Yannas is the Director of the Environment & Energy Studies Programme at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, where he is responsible for the MSc and MArch in Sustainable Environmental Design and the AA School’s PhD Programme. He has been involved in environmental design research and teaching since the late 1970’s, has lectured in many countries and was recently a Sir Isaac Newton Design Fellow in Architecture at Cambridge University. His latest book, Lessons from Vernacular Architecture is due for publication in 2013. His earlier book Roof Cooling Techniques-a design handbook was shortlisted for the RIBA International Book Award for Architecture. A second edition of the Portuguese language Em Busca de uma Arquitetura Sustentavel para os Tropicos (Toward a Sustainable Architecture for the Tropics) was recently published in Rio de Janeiro. Other writings have been translated into a dozen languages. He was awarded the PLEA (Passive and Low Energy Architecture) International Achievement Award in 2001.