Houses of Parliament and the built environment: creating contested space across time

This last weekend I had the privilege of touring the Houses of Parliament. My couple of hours with friends grew my appreciation for the history of England, politics and the influence of built environment on both.

1. History Lesson

London is rich with history. One of the many reminders of this history are proffered by the city in its buildings. Gravitas pours out of the bricks. From gothic to victorian, brutalists to the sharp lines of steel and glass which blanket modernity, the city rises. The city speaks its heart like an endless memoir.

At the heart of the heart, so to speak, are the builders…the risers and shiners, dreamers, activists and doers. Move, shake and bake but just don’t stand still, the city will rise and the moon will fall in a blink.

Enter the Houses of Parliament…

2. Houses of Parliament (aka Palace of Westminster)

As you move about the city, you look for its heart. Some may point to the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, or the Halls of Justice. But the start of the River Walk are the Houses of Parliament. Here,  a coat of regal energy has been poured over. The building is not for the faint of heart, it’s literally under re-construction as I type away. Here rests and revives not a single memory but a universe of time and space in history. Rising from the River Thames,

My friends and I gathered in a queue outside the Palace of Westminster. Parliament is deceptively moderated with open yards and quiet statues. Lining up outside you get a go at the structures’ facade. Bricks and statues greet you as you rumble towards the screening rooms.  Line after line of the movers and the shakers, shape shifters and like have passed through the halls just on the other side. In the never ending story and shadow of Big Ben, the building is sharp, specific, empirical in its calculations.

3. First stop, Westminster Hall…

Greeted by this large open theatre, Westminster Hall is the epitome of openness. Large stone and concrete rise to meet a wood ceiling with imposing rafters reaching from one side to the other. The hall is cold. I know, it’s wintery now, what would one expect? But it is open, and clear and it doesn’t hold you. You must keep calm and carry on. You walk up to a set of simple stairs which level you up to another hall lined full of fresco paintings and statues of historical figures. Down a corridor you travel to a Queens Entry. Here we sit for a moment to take in some of the more crucial details of our journey. This short hallway greets the royal party, Her Majesty now.

4. The Queens Dressing Room…

Step from the Queens Arrival Hall and you are greeted by this immense room with plush red carpet. Frescos paint the walls and bronze coloured wood carvings line the space. Here, the King Arthur of old greets the Kings and Queens of now. Such rich history, grandeur and an atmosphere of focus eases you through.

5. Lords Seating Room…

Step out of the Queens Dressing Room and into the Lords Seating Room. Here, the lineage of hundreds of years arrives daily. Don’t worry, this stately room is wifi equipped. Large chairs covered in deep burgundy leather spot the floor. Wood tables are simply placed around this centrality. As you move through, you enter the Lords Chamber.

6. The Lords Chamber…

Here, you are greeted by the Royal Seating area, covered in detailed woodworks and clad with gold. Long rows of deep burgundy leather clad benches flow from this great chair. The smallness is striking. The long benches face one another in an almost built-in optimistic alignment. Here, discourse and discussion no doubt rises from this space…perhaps described in a word, momentum.

7. Leaving the Lords Chamber you move towards the House of Commons…

Passing through the vaulted ceilings you step through the corridors of marble. Small rooms shoot off from these main routes. On the way towards the House of Commons we sit and explore how modern day life meets history. Voting members can show up to the House of Commons and ask to speak with their MP. If the MP is unreachable, a note is left and contact promised in the future. The idea that one can show up and ask to speak with their representative highlights an oldish promise of past democratic idealism…representation through presentation.

8. House of Commons…

The first bit one notices upon entering the House of Commons is how it mirrors the House of Lords. Literally a reflection, but with green coloured benches instead of burgundy, this space is littered with prayer card keepers. A single long wooden table with trunks and microphones well placed. An alignment with history is pronounced. While there are hundreds of MPs there are not hundreds of seats. No doubt matters arising which call great attention fill this space. Again, the sides face one another, a simple and subtle but no less important reminder that leadership in central London is a complex debate, timeless by design. You cannot but appreciate the totality of the space, the care that was taken to recreate it with such specificity in its contents as to reflect back towards the Lords Keep.

If you are ever about, ask about the ritual of calling to the queen…you’ll find the interesting interplay of people, props, and purpose intersect to create a stage for the state address.

9. Coffee Talk…

The tour ends back where it begins, in Westminster Hall. Here, we wrap up our thoughts and remember how the built environment focuses people into a place.

Following forward, friends and I sit and contemplate the space. No doubt many questions and ideas have been brought to bare on this place. I am humbled by the play, the history which is precisely placed all along any journey into or out of the Palace of Westminster. Many times I have passed but never entered, now upon entering, I have a deeper appreciation for the alignment and source of this space into London, England, and indeed the world.

10. Mints

“Life is an Adventure.” -David McDonald, my dear friend who lives in San Francisco. Let it be good for you. Allow it be be good for you and savour the deliciousness you are provided…

Until next time, My deep appreciation and very best. xZ



London as Muse: Coffee, Evening walks, and a Time Out for Londonist.

No, Toto, I’m not in California anymore…

London moves, fast. On or off the Tube, in or out of work, to and from dinner. Wherever you are and wherever you’re going, chances are your moving with the city as much as through it. Speaking of buzz, have you heard of Time Out- Londontown? IF NOT! Super helpful for distractions, opportunities to meander, and generally muse about Londontown. In addition to Time Out, why not Check Out, Londonist. Here, some fun and fancy snapshots of the city and pop up news about coffee, cakes, the South Bank Holiday Market. This is a brilliant bit of fun, crafts, and treats!!!

As London moves fast, how about we slow down….

Slow down I say, SLOW DOWN! Yes, it’s fun to hustle and bustle, but why not stop…sit…and enjoy some of the architecture.

I have a passion for coffee. Many people drink it, more people have heard about it. So what’s all the fuss about London Coffee you say? WELL, a lot of it has to do with places like  The Espresso Room! Say you’re wandering about in Russell Square. Well, I vote for Espresso Room near Great Ormond Street. Here, you can slow WAYYYYYYY down and chill out and mellow into some excellent coffee, outside on a few nice square wood benches and observe the world as it buzzes by!

If you’re lurking nearer Great Titchfield Street, check out Kaffeine for a simple flat white, some Aussie Love, and a great atmosphere!

I frequent both shops fairly often for fun. It is a nice break from the books, the computer, and the hustling.

London moves, and you’ll move, but take some time to enjoy the views…

There are gardens. There are parks. Near me is Regent’s Park. Regent’s Park is an amazing display of flora, fauna and early morning jogs in this lovely mix of green grass fields, meandering streams and ponds. If you are ever near Euston Road, do pop in to The Espresso Bar. It’s an amazing treat for cake and good espresso.

Well, now that we are full of caffeine, time to get back to the books. Be good to yourself, go fast but don’t hurry, take a little time to enjoy the view, and remember…Life is supposed to be Fun and Good For You.

Until soon,

Best from Londontown!

In Remembrance. Remembering to appreciate with friends and food.

“Don’t try to see through the distances. That’s not for human beings. Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.” -Rumi

Now, you’re here. You have landed softly into this amazing world of worlds, London. You want to focus. You are academically inclined, so you start there. You read. And than you read some more. You hear this catchphrase, keep expanding and growing. Sure. I’ll do my best. And you sort of wrap yourself up in the work, in the academy, because that’s what you know to do. The academy is what you do best.

Folks have to sort of deliver you away from all the hustle and bustle of your studies. You get to go and gather in the middle of Whitehall. You run around, eating muffins and jelly donuts. You appreciate the veracity of the spaces you encounter. Towering white walls with huge banks of windows. A run here and there to see an old pub and a queen’s conference. And London, London is given a chance to be new to you, all over again. You slow down. You allow the city to call you in. You step in and out of traffic, sidewalks are bustling and everyone seems hustling but this time, to Remember.

This last weekend my friends reminded me to Remember. Remember to slow down. To wander. To not be so focused on the ‘stuff’ so often pre-defined as what matters. Instead, take a scavenger hunt with strangers around this district and that. Hop on and off the tube with your Lucky Ladies team. By the way, when asked if we should reconsider the name, I strongly requested we stay with it. I had a feeling, we were in for a treat, and, I was right.

I remember now how I was lucky. To be sorting myself out with such bright spirits all around me. Running here and there, climbing Lions in Trafalgar Square. Commenting on the line to sit in the queen’s courtyard. And the look, in the faces of others. The look which stated, without words, Remember that you are here. Here is your now. Spend your time wisely. We never know when or how we might not have more time to: laugh out loud on the Tube, discourse on the State of the US, talk about the excitement of architecture which so powerfully reminds one, at every step, you are in a space of gravitas. To find ourselves on Brick Lane having great Indian food and talking sports. Remember.

Remember to stay free. Free, not some abstract way, but free in the way you appreciate how you can decide and define the course of your moment to moment being. Remember you are becoming at every step along your path. Remember that others have protected, defended this keep you call freedom. Remember that no one guarantees this will last long or be an extravaganza. Remember that London is synergy, uncoupled from its prior moments in time. Running around with friends you appreciate this. Remembrance makes you appreciate you are connected. In such a global, bustling city there is a moment to defer, to reflect, to slow it all way down, and remember…when you are here you are Family.

So, please, remember to slow it way way down. To appreciate every opportunity you have. Say ‘YES” to what feels good. And, from time to time, allow for a little magic…like finding a coffee shop with HUGE caramel meringues in the window down from Brick Lane.


“Life is an Adventure,” Be Bold. Be Free. Have Courage. Have Fun & Remember.

Dreamy, sleepy Saturday mornings and Sam Smith on the radio.

Have you ever…

Have you ever had a chance to do something you’d always dreamed of doing? Finally the moment arrives. You get the call, or the letter or the message that says, you’ve just won the dreamer lottery. You get to move from wherever you are, half-way around the world, to study what you Love. Now, some people might say, YES, NOW, ME, RIGHT, YES! But there are people like me, who go, YES! But…whoa, how…why…should I?

I’ve done this before…

For me, a huge moment to shift came about two years ago. I was sitting in San Francisco, minding my own business when I get a call. Hey, Zach, would you like to move to London to study education? My answer, with all my heart was, YES. But, there’s a but…I’d have to leave the beautiful place I’d grown to Love, my family…my friends. What would I say to them. Not, oh, I know you’ll miss me. But, please don’t forget me. Please don’t forget that I Love you. Please don’t forget how important you are to me.

See, for me, I wasn’t really worried about them losing me. I was nervous, how could I put down this place I so Loved? How could I move away from the people that I Love? Who cares that I’d done it before, moved all over California, seen the inside and outside of city after city. What mattered, this time, was how different I would feel when going meant Learning to Love and now so much Love to Let Go of…

Don’t cry, there’s Face Time…

I cried. Not in front of people. I remember cramming all my earthly belongings into my little red car. Hoping onto the highway, looking around and back to try and see, I mean see San Francisco really, for maybe one last time. Instead of thinking, eh, it’s all good. I’ll get a do-over tomorrow. Now, as my whole body took one big breath and all the tears I’d hid inside came out I was off on another adventure. There would be no more do-overs, at least for a while. Instead, I’d have to Let Go. I’d have to Let it Be. I’d have to trust in being Free.

My friends all said, no worries Zach, there’s always FaceTime. But a computer screen is not the same as sitting next to your best friend on a bench outside Philz Coffee in the Castro and talking about anything or nothing at all and feeling like the world was perfect. Just because of where you were and being with who you were with. Mom said, you have to follow your dream. If this is your chance, you must. If you don’t you’ll regret it. And life is not for regrets. Never. Sure, there’s Face Time.

But in movement there is reflection. All those dreams are nice but what matters when you get caught on some random Saturday with the cool London air seeping in through the windows is how you keep going.

Fast Forward to some Saturday with Sam Smith…

Have you ever had one of those mornings. You wake up and all you want to do is stay in bed and cuddle. You are convinced watching endless cartoons and eating tons of cereal is the best use of this particular Saturday. Mind you, you bought said cereal for the toy and some uncanny resemblance to near chocolatey flavored goodness. No matter though. Nothing is the something that you crave. And it’s cold outside. Stay in, under the covers, cuddle like you have nothing else to do because you have nothing else to do.

Have you ever…

Put down the life you had to follow the life you want. Living in London is like being on this constant scavenger hunt. Everywhere you go and every moment you have, you find the city lights up your path. Over and over again you get to find new and creative parts of the artfulness of hearts. From Tate Modern, to Gail’s Bakery sweets, Espresso Room Coffee talks and countless walks around the Heath. I’ve learned not to close my eyes lest I be surprised that the darkness leaves me Lovely. It’s OK to wander, to walkabout and find you’re story moves you here and there. What is your life but a chance to see sunrises and sunsets across the rivers you find, with the people you meet.

Have you ever found now is the best time…

Now is the best time. Now is the best time to be here. Now is the best time to gallivant, to unharness your spirit. To be, to play, to have fun, to enjoy. Wake up on your Saturday morning, stay in bed and cuddle to Sam Smith. Wander around the markets nearby to pick up fresh croissants and a cup of coffee, or two, just so you can linger. Linger in the Lights of London a bit longer. Linger in the moments that slow everything way way down.

Because you might wake up one day, sitting on a bench in Regents Park, sipping espresso and watching the birds dance around trees. The end result of following your dreams, might just be, more London dreams.