The House that Politics Built: Parliament Aotearoa New Zealand

Hero Image Reduced Tessa Forde

The House that Politics Built: Parliament Aotearoa New Zealand proposes a new parliamentary architecture located in the centre of Auckland City, flanked by a casino, a brothel, and Auckland’s main street. Political events of the 2014 New Zealand election, ritual existing in the current parliament house and concepts from international political buildings, dictate the architecture of a new parliament complex, using the prioritisation of public amenity to facilitate democracy. Or, that is the conceit; really the project deploys architecture as a satirical tool for the dissection of politics, consumerism and the media.

A series of publications and products support the project and its presentation in the form of a tour, ultimately concluding at a gift store. The reproductions of the architecture become as crucial to the project as the architecture itself, playing on the role of occupant as consumer. 

While architecture is used as a satirical tool and humour is rife, the intent behind the project is serious. With the convergence of news and entertainment, parliamentary architecture must adapt to stay relevant. Parliament Aotearoa New Zealand uses the tension between satire and sincerity, and fixity and fluidity to stabilise the unstable world of democracy and find a way to use architecture to facilitate it. 

The concept for the thesis developed from a fascination with politics, the media and the political implications of the built environment. It started with a collage of politicians and their buildings – referencing an old mosaic tradition of presenting the image of the pope holding his church on the wall of his church. The idea was that the building becomes a symbol of its ideology, of the characters who occupy it and of the political system it operates within.

Media and representation was crucial. In a previous project I had developed a series of tabloids called The John Galt Post, which analysed the politics of Auckland CBD and attempted to spatialise them through a series of interventions. Experimentation with different methods of presenting architecture would drive the direction of the design process.

The parliament typology seemed an obvious programme, and particularly in the ways it could be disrupted. Extensive research was conducted around existing parliament houses, the history of democracy and the political role buildings take.

The first attempt at a design understanding of this was a card game called Memory Lapse: 10 architectural interventions based on all the things John Key had forgotten over those past few years. The idea suggested that parliament might be dispersed, and democracy broken down into small parts for quick consumption. Rather than a fixed monument, parliament would exist as architectural moments around the country, constantly in flux, with new additions under constant development. While Memory Lapse posed a new kind of parliamentary architecture, it also crucially turned architecture into a game, and tested a mode of accessible architectural consumption.



A trip to New Zealand Parliament and an assessment of the validity of the dispersed parliament lead to an investigation into the utopian projects of the 1960s and 1970s and the potential of a parliamentary megastructure. A key concept of this was the idea of accountability, with the ‘House’ in the New Zealand parliamentary system holding the government to account. The language of politics is already architectural. If taken literally the question was reframed to ask, “how could the building hold the government to account?”

The proposition suggested that the health minister might be more aware of the implications of her policy if she had to work alongside a hospital. With this in mind Parliament House would become a monolithic wall of public amenity, slicing through the city and incorporating public programme alongside parliamentary activity.

The development of this scheme through model making and drawing also engaged with the relationship between landscape and building and an introduction of the golf course typology. Usually a realm for the wealthy and a forum for business deals, the golf course becomes an interesting analogy to consider in political conversation.

Identification of flaws of both the dispersed and monolithic models generated the ideas for the final scheme; a parliamentary complex in a central CBD location with a focus on public amenity as a means to facilitate democracy. The site, adjacent to the SKYCITY Auckland Convention Centre, was validated when the government elected to sign the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement in the building, turning the site and city into a stage for protest.

Concept models and sketches based on the collective body of existing designs and interventions generated the formal qualities of the proposal.


Finished Product

The final project is presented as a holistic ‘package.’ Branded and commoditised, the scheme is performed as a completed project in the form of a tour, divorcing the role of the architect from an outsider’s interpretation. Satire was a driver for many aspects of the design origins, and humour becomes a tool for accessibility and effective communication.  

The complex focuses on public buildings, the architecture of which generally promotes democratic ideals more than grand parliamentary schemes. Ownership is experienced through a sense of ease of belonging, understanding that it is the public’s right to be there. It also forces politicians to engage with public programme and everyday life – a supermarket is even placed alongside, looking into the debating chamber. The public programme includes a library, a pool, a kindergarten, sports courts (on top of the district courts), an amphitheater, a patch of native bush, an aviary, an arcade, an outdoor movie screen and extensive outdoor public space intended for both leisure and protest.

A green slime-like mass takes over the site dubbed The Village Green. Fluid and consuming, it acts as circulation intensified, a kind of teleportation device that denotes public space – making clear to the inhabitants of the complex what is theirs. Details such as door handles, light switches and furniture are drawn from political scandal but take on new meaning when standardised and used in every public building in the country, becoming cultural signifiers of state amenity.

An overlay of temporary follies spring up around the site and the city in response to key political events, in an attempt to capture the variability of politics and democracy and force engagement with crucial issues in a media-drenched society. This is cemented by the conclusion of the tour at a gift store – the ‘Parliamentary Consumer Booth’ where you vote while you buy.

The project became a discussion around the validity of design origins and a critique of our consumption of architecture and politics. Satire as a design tool should be considered just as valid as any other because it is the outcome that matters. It is also an incredible tool, able to present opposing viewpoints simultaneously and appealing to an audience’s sense of humour. It is crucial that this project be understood as wholly serious. In a society where politics is understood in sound bites, tweets and scandal, more critical discussion is needed about what this means, and the responsibilities of the architectural discipline to engage. This was a project about what is important in architecture, in its conception, its reception and its representation.


Critic's Text

Tessa Forde’s approached her thesis by asking if architecture has the capacity to be both satirical yet also spatially and formally compelling. A new Parliamentary precinct sited in downtown Auckland, is designed to test this thesis. The result is both clever and engaging as well as provocative, witty and pointed. Communicated through multiple elements (drawings, models, mocked-up magazines, tourist trinkets, playing cards, t-shirts) the thesis interrogates the relationships between space, politics and media in Aotearoa New Zealand in a relentless and swift fashion. Navigating the traditions of government, the urban space of Auckland and the speed of the 24-hour news cycle, the project suggests that a new public activism might be spurred through the visibility of Parliament and the proximity of government to daily life.

— Dr Kathy Waghorn, co-supervisor with Aaron Paterson