The building that had the longest queue was City Hall, the new GLA headquarters. It's visually quite distinctive, sitting on the south bank of the Thames just west of Tower Bridge, and looking like a bunch of slipping discs. This was the first time the top of the building, somewhat pretensiously called "London's Living Room", had been open.
Although it's not that tall (at 49m, it's roughly a quarter of the height of the tallest towers just over the river in the City, which you can see very clearly indeed) the views are pretty good, because it's right on the edge of development; there's not much else south or east of it. However, the part of the design that's got all the attention from the architecture critics is the ramp that goes all the way down from this top- eighth- floor to the debating chamber on the second floor.
The ramp is fairly free form and looping; photos really don't do it justice, as every step presents a new view through the levels and you have to grasp the distances right. Still, it leads you right down and around the debating chamber. This is the crux I've been leading you to, through this scene-setting narrative.
Unlike the Houses of Parliament, which I visited last December, there is a real feeling of access to the GLA debating chamber. When I visited City Hall earlier in the year, you could wander in off the street, look at the huge map/model of the city downstairs, then wander up another ramp around the outside of the first floor and end up looking into the debating chamber. I assume (although I haven't been there during normal hours) that you can then go and sit and watch the proceedings. All this without a check of your bags, an interrogating glance or a feeling that you're in some other world.
Meanwhile, in Parliament, you're asked to wait until a space in the (ludicrously small) Stranger's Gallery becomes empty. You pass through a number of security checks before your bag, camera, pen, paper, mobile phone, and in fact anything that could possibly be seen as distracting are stored in a locker. You take in the order paper- the day's business- and watch tiny people who are better seen on the monitors showing the same material that you can watch on BBC Parliament.
I know there's some call for security, and that causes an inevitable difference between Parliament and the GLA. However, which would you prefer: a chamber which ends up feeling horribly patrician, elitist and unwelcoming, or one that screams with its very setting that it's democratic, transparent and accessible?