Parliament, meet Pixar

Physical Changes

In an age of open-concept offices and cross-discipline collaboration, what does it say when our House of Commons has a centuries-old design? These articles take inspiration from other Parliaments, and cutting edge workplaces to suggest physical changes to Parliament that might encourage behavioural changes in Parliamentarians.

Blog Posts on Physical Changes to Parliament

Parliament, meet Pixar

by User Not Found | Feb 19, 2013
Today as part of our idea-a-day on Redesigning Parliament, Samara's Leora Smith wonders aloud whether we could take a cue from Steve Jobs and redesign our Parliament buildings to encourage more creative cooperation.

“We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.” At least Winston Churchill thought so.

When we first asked Samarans to contribute ideas on “redesigning Parliament” we expected (and got) some amazing suggestions for improvements and changes to our political processes, and citizen/government relationships. What we didn’t expect were your great ideas to actually redesign parliament.

A whole chapter in Steve Jobs’ biography is dedicated to the intense thought he put into designing the Pixar "campus" so that its very setup would encourage creativity. His biggest concern? Making sure people working in different fields – i.e. the computer programmers, and the animators/writers – would bump into each other, leading to “unplanned collaborations.” To that end, he designed a giant atrium that connected their separate buildings. It holds a free café, meeting rooms, and the bathrooms and mailrooms.

So that got us wondering, does the design of our Parliament encourage collaboration?

Our House of Commons is built in the traditional Westminster style with the Government and the Official Opposition facing one another. The story goes that their benches are exactly two sword lengths apart to prevent an actual duel from breaking out. This leaves little choice but to yell across the room in the aggressive way that so many of us have come to love-to-hate.

In our House of Commons, opposing parties stare each other down as the public and press look on

But that’s certainly not the only choice. Scotland recently built their first Parliament since 1707. They opted for a style common in Europe – a semicircle. Secretary of State Donald Dewer said the shape, allowing members of different parties to sit side-by-side, would “[mark] a new kind of politics where constructive debate as well as healthy party adversity will be important.”

Scotland’s debating chamber. The biggest party sits in the middle with the First Minister and cabinet members in the front row. Other parties are free to sit where they choose. In Iceland seating is determined by lottery, in Sweden by the geography of constituencies.

Closer to home, the Government of Nunavut makes decisions by consensus. This system is well reflected in their circular setup:

In the next 12 years, as restoration begins on our Parliament buildings, MPs will be moving into a temporary House of Commons. As we learned in Jennifer Phillips’s post yesterday, the plan is to stick with the same arrangement we have now. Perhaps we should consider following the example of Scotland and go for a circular chamber. Or maybe we need to think outside the debating-chambers-box especially since MPs told us that’s not where decisions actually happen anyway.

In that case, maybe it’s time to replace the strictly separate Opposition and Government lobbies with a Pixar-style atrium where chance meetings lead to “unplanned (multipartisan) collaborations." Then maybe we'd end up with an iPhone 5 of a Parliament – one that’s actually innovative, forward-thinking and user-friendly.

More great ideas on this topic came from within the walls of Parliament

Peter Stoffer, MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore

Responses from Samarans

"I'd probably make the chamber circular. Maybe virtual? Reduce travel." - @daeaves

"Why not have the parliament meet in chambers across the country, rather than just in Ottawa?  Very few people actually watch parliament on television, and the media does a terrible job of mangling Question Period, so let's take Parliament on the road.  Yes, this would certainly increase costs and travel for some, but MPs are already traveling between Ottawa and their home ridings on a regular basis.  Further, I feel this would do a lot to bring 'Ottawa' closer to Canadians from coast-to-coast to coast.  If no other country has tried this before - let's be the first and forever remove geography as a barrier between Canadians and between Canadians and the political process." - @dan_lussier

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