Shaping parliament, shaping society

Do the seating arrangements in our legislative bodies shape (or reflect) how our societies are governed?

The architecture firm XML, based in Amsterdam, has published Parliament, which is a design study of the halls of parliament of all 193 members of the United Nations.

The authors argue that legislative halls are all organized in one of five ways – semicircle, horseshoe, opposing benches, circle, or classroom.  The classroom style, for example – with straight rows of chairs facing the front of the room -- is common in more authoritarian nations like North Korea and Russia.  The UK House of Commons, which is known for its spirited debate, uses opposing benches, which emphasizes the distinctions between parties. Circular designs, on the other hand, generally foster a sense of unity and collaboration.

We should not take for granted how work spaces and seating arrangements can affect our behavior and thinking unconsciously.