Saturday, 18 July 2009

New workshop for top judicial brass

Moving on, giggling, from reading about a man in Düsseldorf who tried to fix his air mattress using tyre repair solvent, causing an explosion which blew the wall of his apartment into the stairwell, I came to a news item describing the £56 million shed, formerly Middlesex Guildhall, which has been converted to house the new supreme court. Sounds pretty swish; the law lords, whom we have previously known and loved as "lords of appeal in ordinary" and must now call "justices of the supreme court", will have showers for use by those who cycle to work, state-of-the-art hand dryers in their loos, and some punchy words from the Magna Carta etched into the glass doors (of the courtroom, not the loos).

Well, bully for them. But how many of them are nervous, bearing in mind Parkinson's Law? Not the one about work expanding to fill the time available for its completion, but the one which states that the perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the point of collapse.

Parkinson based this on his observation of what happened to the Papal Monarchy at the height of its power: the really powerful popes had reigned long before St Peter's, the Basilica and the Vatican were built, and the later popes lost half their authority while the work was still in progress. The great days of the Papacy were over before the perfect setting was even planned.

Then again, the justly admired Palace of the Nations in Geneva, with its carefully planned secretariat and council chambers, committee rooms and cafeteria, was opened in 1937. It had been designed for the League of Nations, which had been seen to have failed by 1933 at the latest, and had practically ceased to exist by the time the Palace was ready to house it.

Or the Palace of Blenheim, built for the victorious Duke of Marlborough as the perfect place of retirement for a national hero. Sadly, it took a long time to build because the Duke was in disgrace, and even, for two years, in exile, and by the time it was finished he was dead.

It could be said that Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster, the Palace of Versailles and Lutyens' New Delhi similarly commemorated the mighty institutions they were designed for rather than housing them. To find out why you will have to get a copy of C. Northcote Parkinson's book of essays. Mine cost 3/6d; yours may cost rather more.

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