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a life in architecture - tony benn

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After 51 years as an MP it is natural that Tony Benn, who has just retired, should cherish the House of Commons. 'It's almost the family workshop, ' he smiles. 'Both my grandfathers were MPs, and so was my dad and now my son.' Benn, who first visited Barry's neo-Gothic masterpiece in 1937, relishes its populist rather than pompous aspects. 'Under the speaker's house is a Victorian sewage plant that dealt with Disraeli's and Gladstone's excrement, ' he laughs.

'And all those statues of the great and the good - not one of whom believed in democracy!'

Benn loves the hammer-beam roof of 14th-century Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the complex.

'At one time it succumbed to deathwatch beetle. But it's a wonderful space - it's like the UK's town hall.'

In 1966, as postmaster general, Benn opened the Post Office Tower, now the BT Tower, describing it as a symbol of 20th-century Britain. 'It was absolutely practical, designed for its purpose with no unnecessary decoration. It celebrates the birth of modern communications technology. It saddens me that it's closed to the public since privatisation - the revolving restaurant had fantastic views.'

Initially sceptical about the London Eye as another waste of public money, he was won over by its elegance and views. 'While there are plenty of buildings I don't like - Canary Wharf, for instance - to be able to see them all, and be moving at the same time, is wonderful.

London is a city on a human scale, unlike, say, New York or Tokyo where you feel less than yourself.'

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