Virtual Parliament

Atelier Huang Spring 2021

On December 11, 2020, the Swiss Parliament in Berne urgently accepted an initiative to allow congress members (Nationalrat/Conseil national) to vote remotely due to COVID-19, and a few days later, Sophie Michaud Gigon, the Green Party Representative from the Canton Vaud, became the first parliament member in Swiss history to cast a vote virtually, without being physically present in the parliament.

This significant break with a long tradition – the requirement of physical presence in the Swiss parliament dates back to the Landesgemeinde of the Middle ages where the physical assembly of citizens in one public space was of primordial importance for debates and voting – prompted the Swiss parliament to start a reflection on the possible consequences of the virtualization of parliament.

In this studio, we were looking to support the Swiss parliament with this task by exploring opportunities and threats of virtualizing the parliament, and designing a new type of political infrastructure for “res publica,” ie., for civic engagement, accountability, personhood, and direct democracy, that integrates virtual and physical architectures. Our site was a combination of virtual reality (VR) and physical interventions (acupunctural or pop-up architectures) in rural/suburban towns in Zürich’s Vororte.

In our work, we focused on the inevitable questions that result from this topic: What are the essential elements of existing parliaments in the world? What role does the typology of parliament play in the process of decision-making? What is the value of physical presence in politics? What is the agency of physical architecture in shaping a direct democracy? What happens to the informal spaces – the break-out rooms, the stairs, the corridors, the cafeteria, etc. where most encounters and debates are happening – when the parliament gets virtualized? What kind of novel interfaces can be envisaged, for individuals and smaller, distributed groups at the peripheries? How can we design a virtual parliament that is empowering, yet just and civic? Is there an opportunity for rethinking and improving the architecture of democracy?

The studio is organized in three interconnected phases. Phase one collected the analysis of existing parliament typologies in the world and focused on the relationship between geometric form and political power. Phase two tackled the notion of virtualization, and examine the translation of political relations into cyberspace. Ordinarily, this phase is conducted entirely in virtual reality using VR headsets. Phase three involved the design of a political infrastructure as an interface for citizens in distributed communes to authenticate, access the virtual parliament and participate in the res publica.

The studio culminated in a final project that combines results from the three phases in an updated, architectural expression for future democratic processes: a personal interpretation of the virtual parliament and the design of a political infrastructure on a precise site in Zürich’s Vorstädte; a temporary social space to empower citizens at the periphery and enable political engagement, accountability, and direct democracy. The Spring studio 2021 “Virtual Parliament” is related to the topics of our Fall studio 2020 “Deep Zurich,” however, the studio is conceived as a separate, autonomous studio and is to be taken independently.

Architecture & Negotiation – Mobile Interface for Political Crisis Negotiation | Micky Gerardi & Kyra Lea Michel
Digital Encounters – Strengthening Direct Democracy | Marilyn Brühlmann & Roberto Trivelli &  Gaël Corentin Tuchschmid
Vote in the City – A Collective Way of Voting | Anne Gabrielle Steullet & Alessandro Tiezzi
Architecture & Negotiation – Mobile Interface for Political Crisis Negotiation | Micky Gerardi & Kyra Lea Michel
Social Parliament – Connecting Every Swiss Citizen | Alexandre Maxime Bron & Alexandre Gameiro / Ricky Lee

Students | Anne Steullet, Alessandro Tiezzi, Téo Golay, Grégory Kramer, Julien, Porret, Maria Sienko, Alexandre Bron, Alexandre Gameiro, Ricky Lee, Yonah Belaich, Lundrim Karameta, Marilyn Brühlmann, Roberto Trivelli, Gaël Tuchschmid, Héloïse Lauret, Carolin Hinnekeuser, Rida Perret, Viviane Vu, Andrea Calzolaro, Jacques Schmidt, Abigaël Schaller, Micky Gerardi, Kyra Michel, Mikail Gün, Beatriz Ontañón Menéndez, Constantin Guichard

Professor |  Jeffrey Huang, Professor, Director, MxD Lab

Tutors | Christina Doumpioti, Christoph HolzMikhael JohanesFrederick KimGianna Morgane Ledermann,

Process blog |