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The History of Ventilation: Poor ventilation in Parliament!
February 20, 2017

The History of Ventilation: Poor ventilation in Parliament!

1852: Poor ventilation in the Houses of Parliament despite major investments

Following the encouraging experiences gained from the temporary building for the House of Commons, the next aim was to achieve an equally good indoor climate in the new permanent buildings and thus improve the poor ventilation in Parliament. Reid was once again commissioned to tackle this infinitely larger and more complex building with all its chambers, corridors and innumerable rooms. The two large towers of the new parliamentary building, one of which houses the world famous Big Ben bell, were used for shafts for the supply air. The building’s central and somewhat lower tower was used for ducts for removing the extract air.

In Reid’s opinion, the fire-driven ventilation system would have to be helped along and steam-driven fans were installed to blow air into the building while the extraction system was still fire-driven. The system and its controls were very advanced for that time and, among other things, it was possible to choose from which of the high towers fresh air would be drawn in, depending on where the outdoor air was deemed to be least polluted at any particular time.

Never-ending conflicts between the architect Charles Barry and David Reid meant that, from the very beginning, the ventilation of the building was divided into two separate systems. Reid was made responsible for the House of Commons but the ventilation system here never became fully functional, as he now only had access to one of the towers for the supply air. Despite great efforts to regulate the ventilation according to the members’ wishes, there were numerous complaints. Experts condemned the system as being “too advanced to work in practice” and it was redesigned after being in operation for only 14 months.

The indoor environment and ventilation in Parliament was to be subject to complaints for decades to come.

Read more about history of ventilation technology