The Palace of Westminster, which was rebuilt following the destruction of the original medieval building in 1834, is home to the U.K.’s parliamentary proceedings in London. A UNESCO world heritage site, the palace is in a constant state of renovation and preservation. As one can guess, cleaning the premises is a quite a task, though much of the dirt, grime, and dust amassed over the decades has either been long since been swept away, forgotten, or left dormant.
In light of this, Spanish artist, architect, and conservationist Jorge Otero-Pailos has his eyes set on retaining some of Westminster’s dirty history (interpret that metaphorically as you please). Open until September 1st at the Houses of Parliament is The Ethics of Dust. A nod to John Ruskin’s 1866 publication by the same name, the site-specific installation is located in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the complex. An admirer of Gothic architecture, Ruskin pioneered the movement for architecture conservation and warned of the damage pollution could do, but also the damage that could be done if cleaning was to be carried out.
Now, however, more sophisticated cleaning tools are available, and Otero-Pailos has been able to carry out his work. Latex was sprayed onto the building’s wall then delicately peeled off to lift the dirt finally cleaning the wall that Ruskin had coined, “that golden stain of time.” A translucent recreation of the hall’s internal east wall, the 164-foot-long sheet holds hundreds of years of surface pollution and dust with remnants from the Great Stink of 1858 to WWII; the smog of 1952 and beyond.
The project was commissioned by art U.K. producers Artangel and hangs from a hammerbeam roof 91 feet above. Backlighting and natural illumination from the Palace’s grand windows allows visitors to inspect all the dirt that has been collected from the wall in fine detail. During this process, Otero-Pailos worked alongside Parliament’s official restoration and stone cleaning project for more than five years, such was the extent of the dirt residue.
Late last year, The Architect’s Newspaper reported that Allies and Morrison, BDP, HOK and Foster+Partners had been shortlisted among a group of nine firms for a major refurbishment project at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. You can read more about The Ethics of Dust here.