It is no accident that recent decades have seen many parliaments and seats of government turn towards using glass to signify transparency, eliminate classroom-style plenary halls in favor of circular arrangements, or open their houses to visitors and the wider public. These efforts to make democratic representation tangible and visible are a reaction to changing public demands for accountability and openness – after all, such measures do not necessarily make the work of institutions easier or more effective.

We investigate this nexus of political architecture and democratic representation for the 16 German state parliaments (‘Landtage’) in the first comprehensive comparative case study on the history, function, and political processes leading to these buildings. We show how a small set of architectural modes has diffused through the system, emphasizing public access, transparency, cross-party cooperation, and circumspection. A far cry from ‘palaces of democracy’ such as the French National Assembly, most German state parliaments have opted either for modestly retooled historical buildings, or for modern but mostly unspectacular functional houses.

We hypothesize that these architectural decisions stem from parliaments’ need to be perceived as directly serving their citizens, and thus ‘build into existence’ participation, legitimation, and public approval. We argue that relying on architecture to communicate democratic qualities can be an obvious choice for parliaments, but that such efforts are moderately effective at best. (see website)

Schwanholz, Julia and Theiner, Patrick (Eds.) (2020), Die politische Architektur deutscher Parlamente. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.