Our Parliament building in Edinburgh is shrugging off its shrouds of scaffolding and plastic sheeting, in preparation for the next 100 years, at least, of government. The cost, reputedly over £300 million, is the equivalent of one fish supper each year for every Scot.
For the past two years the historic towers of the Palace of Holyroodhouse have been overshadowed by the white cluster of tower cranes working on the site of the new Scottish Parliament.
Tower buildings: The six-storey tower of the MSP office block will accommodate 106 MSPs, together with their researchers and secretaries.
Until recently the form of the new buildings was not legible, shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting; but the buildings are now emerging as the final cladding panels are lifted to be attached to the concrete and steel skeleton to create the outer skin. It is well worth a visit. Since the project was first announced there has been an excellent visitor centre adjacent to the site, exhibiting and explaining the original concept drawings, together with models and dramatic computer-generated ‘walk throughs’ of the finished buildings. This visitor centre has now closed, and in early December, a new information centre and shop opens in Crichton’s Close, off The Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
The site is surrounded with a hoarding decorated with quotes describing what Scotland means to a variety of people who took part in the competition run by local newspapers earlier this year. Access to the construction site beyond is strictly controlled, but group visits can be arranged by contacting the Scottish Parliament’s Holyrood project team.
The Parliament building comprises three main elements: the Parliament assembly building, the MSP office accommodation block and Queensberry House. Queensberry House has stood on the site since the mid-17th century and was until recently a geriatric hospital until its deteriorating condition made its continuing use uneconomical. Refurbishment of the historic house has been complicated by the necessity to render it blast-proof with the insertion of a steel frame within the sandstone shell of the building. The house will provide a formal entrance to the Parliament, together with parliamentary support offices.
INSPIRATIONAL: The windows in the MSPs’ offices, made of stainless steel, oak and glass, were allegedly inspired by a Henry Raeburn painting.
To the west of the house rises the six-storey tower of the MSP office block, providing accommodation for 106 MSPs together with their research and secretarial back-up. Each MSP has a modest private office of some 15m, no larger than a hotel bedroom, with a west-facing projecting window. The window units are currently being craned into place and attached to the concrete face of the building. They are sculptural forms, made of stainless steel, oak and glass which provide dramatic modelling to the façade, and were allegedly inspired by Sir Henry Raeburn’s famous painting of the skating minister, The Rev Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch. Each office has a seat, bookshelves and a skylight to allow our MSPs a quiet place to read and contemplate (and look to the stars for inspiration?)
To the east of Queensberry House is the Parliament Assembly building. Public access will be from Horse Wynd, opposite the entrance to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. A wide glazed canopy will lead into a foyer beneath the main assembly chamber. The foyer is open to the public and contains a classroom, shop and restaurant. Beyond, passing through security, visitors can enter the towers containing six committee rooms, where much of the parliamentary business will be transacted, or rise by stair or lift to the public gallery of the main chamber.
Each committee room is of a different shape, loosely based on a leaf. The chamber is presently a concrete and steel shell, but the computer-generated models show that it will be a bright, glazed space lined with oak panelling and with a complex roof of great oak trusses connected by stainless steel nodes. The brief required a semi-circular or horseshoe-shaped chamber, facing the presiding officer, in contrast to the Westminster model of opposing benches.
The question of cost is bound to arise, with the building reputedly costing over £300 million, but that should be put in perspective. The annual cost of that capital is equivalent to one fish supper each year for every Scot. The building is designed to last for at least 100 years, is built of high quality materials and has had to be designed with bomb-blast requirements in mind. Within the chamber and the committee rooms there will be galleries where we can watch our MSPs at work.
It has been carefully designed for a complex historical site, has been built to a high standard and will provide a dramatic addition to the townscape of Edinburgh.
Although the building was designed by a Catalan architect, Enric Miralles who died in July 2000, he worked in collaboration with Edinburgh-based RMJM to produce a building of international standing, but inspired by Scotland’s landscape. The quality of materials used in the building has been a constant issue for the architects who have used, wherever possible, locally sourced stone and timber; of local interest, much of the granite cladding for the assembly building was quarried at Kemnay, and slabs of Caithness slate have been used on floors.
The architects have shown that a parliament building is not just a factory to house the machinery of government, but should encapsulate the spirit of the country and its people.
Ron Gauld is an architect with a practice in Aberdeen and Banchory, and a lecturer at the Scott Sutherland School at RGU. Working in the North-East his preoccupation is with the quality of light which can be brought into buildings. He and his wife Susi live in a house they built at Ardoe on the banks of the Dee.Tweet
This is an article from the December 2002 edition of Leopard Magazine. To read much more like this every month, subscribe to Leopard Magazine.