The National Assembly for Wales by Richard Rogers Partnership, which looks out over Cardiff Bay, is defined by two bold architectural moves: an undulating overhanging roof with a red-cedar slatted timber soffit, and a Welsh-slate plinth.
Glazed facades encourage members of the public to wander into the main public space, where they are free to use the café, attend informal meetings or presentations, watch the goingson of the assembly chamber via television screens, or simply enjoy the space. Entry is via a side pavilion which was added to the design when increased security fears ruled out the simple central entrance which was originally planned.
The public space is dominated by a central timber-clad 'tree' or 'bell', which allows natural light down into the assembly chamber. The bell is partially glazed so that visitors in the public area can look down on to assembly proceedings, and there is also a public gallery over the chamber. This was originally designed to be open but has been glazed in because of security concerns.
The lower-ground floor houses meeting rooms, a staff coffee bar and three double-height, glazed-wall committee chambers, as well as the assembly chamber itself. Glass bridges link the new building to the existing office building next door, where members and staff have permanent facilities.
All materials were reviewed in terms of embodied energy and long-term design life. With services including a biomass boiler, ground-source heat pumps and water harvesting, this has resulted in an excellent BREEAM rating.
Ian Ritchie I think this is the most successful democratic space Rogers has done since Pompidou. Traditionally in Wales they put the slate on the roof and the timber on the floor. Rogers reverses the habit. As a concept diagram it's very strong. But then I would say that, because I was on the competition jury which selected it. The children are not overawed by the civic foyer - it is remarkably social.
Isabel Allen I think there are two concept diagrams, and they are both very strong, but I am not sure how well they work together. I love the idea of this great timber funnel bringing natural light down into the debating chamber, and of the public being raised above their politicians in a raised glazed box. But the reality is that one compromises the other. The funnel means that the views across the pavilion are always obscured.
Ian Ritchie I think it works, because the light collector - presented like a bunch of daffodils - ows downwards from its timber sky; a permanent reminder that the real business is happening in the debating chamber below. But the timber suffers from the staple-gun approach to fixing, which leaves this dark tidemark rather than a beautiful ribbon holding it together as a present for the nation. The concrete quality is excellent - though the designer's pain of design and build is too often and easily recognised.
Mariella Frostrup I love the way the ceiling is dragged through into the chamber. It feels at once a part of the building and a separate space. And I love the materials - glass and wood. The entrance area had a lovely feel to it, but I'm not so sure about the lower spaces. The areas outside the chamber feel like an afterthought - like ripples on a lake. But it's very professional and well thought-out. And for a parliament building it's unusually embracing.
Ian Ritchie Once down below, the height enables a quiet dignity to be achieved, though I found the chamber itself too small and too intimate. Other than that, I think they have the scale exactly right - reecting the size of Wales' population and territory, although it's a tragedy that it has such a gross neighbour alongside it.
Isabel Allen It's one of the most successful public spaces I've seen. It's interesting to compare the way visitors use this building to the Scottish Parliament. At Holyrood they come to marvel - or cringe - at the architecture. They go on guided tours. Here, it is much more relaxed. They're inhabiting it rather than viewing it; reading the papers, meeting friends.
Martha Schwartz The overall parti - the stone plinth and the almost female form hovering over it - is brilliant, it keeps everything glued together. It would have been wonderful to have daylight through the roof to model it - as it is it's a bit dead. Light would have brought that ceiling to life. But it probably looks better at night.
Stefan Behnisch It's a bit disturbing for me because I know too much about these parliament buildings - I have worked on Bonn. The sustainability is very good. It was in the design brief, but they have pulled it off. I don't like the chamber here - too grey, the black chairs; if you want to do art, do it here. This is too like Foster's corporate grey in Berlin. If this building was bigger it would have been brilliant; if they zoomed it up a bit. As it is, it's too much money per square metre. The structural scheme is great - good at roof- and aboveground level, but not below. That is what Piano calls the kingdom of darkness. It's the result of design and build - the likes of Foster and Rogers should refuse to do it.
Subcontractors and suppliers
Steelwork SH Structures; raised floor Accyss Projects; internal slate/external granite Allard & Fils; sealant All Mastic; cladding panels Alumasc; ancillary glazing Astec; timber soffit and funnel Barrett Ceilings; landscaping Blakedown; slate walling CB Watson; groundworks Chumgold; balustrades Concept Balustrades; GRC cladding CPF; soft flooring CW Jones; doors Fineline; painting G&S; doors and tech strips GE Carpentry; facade glazing Haran Glass; furniture Keith Evans; Kalzip roof Lakesmere; moving walls London Walls; tiling NC Ceramics; steelwork Rowecord; chamber lifts Royse; main lifts Schindler; oak panels and floor SWJ; cubicles Thrislington Cubicles; lighting Whitecroft Lighting; reinforced-concrete frame Whelan & Grant Architect Richard Rogers Partnership Client National Assembly for Wales Project manager Schal Cost consultant Northcroft Structural engineer Arup Landscape architect Gillespies Fire engineering Warrington Fire Research Environmental consultant BDSP Partnership Main contractor Taylor Woodrow Contract value: £67 million Date of occupation: February 2006 Gross internal area: 5,308m