Places to Visit in Scotland
- Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh






Background
"There shall be a Scottish Parliament" is the opening clause of the Scotland Act 1998, which created a devolved legislature in Edinburgh. Or, as Winifred Ewing, the Presiding Officer (a contrived term for the Speaker of the assembled Members of the Scottish Parliament) expressed it at the first meeting of the new Parliament when it took place on 12 May 1999, "The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on 25th March 1707, is hereby reconvened." Initially, the parliament met in temporary accommodation provided by the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall on the Mound, overlooking Princes Street Gardens, while a new custom-built complex was created at the other end of the Royal Mile.

The New Parliament Building
Most descriptions of the new Scottish Parliament building usually have the word "controversial" somewhere in their text. Not just because the cost of creating it rose and rose, from an (admittedly totally unrealistic) early estimate of 40 million to a final cost of over 400 million. And the completion date that was pushed back and back, with MSP's finally moving in by the end of September 2004. Demolition work on the site had started in October 1998 and main construction work began on site in July 1999. But there was also controversy about the overall design and look of the building, ranging from plaudits from architectural organisations (architectural gurus from around the world describe it as a thrilling masterpiece and a construction to rival the Forth Rail Bridge). But there are also many who shake their heads at the same unique design of the building. Certainly, the Prince of Wales (or Duke of Rothesay as he is known in Scotland) thought that the royal Holyrood Palace should have a neighbour with similar characteristics - but he certainly didn't get that!

Of course, cost over-runs and not meeting target dates are nothing new in government projects - work on the (now) much admired Houses of Parliament at Westminster in London began in 1837 and they were still putting the finishing touches on it in 1870 at a total cost five times that of the original estimate. It is often forgotten that the Scottish Parliament project was already underway when the elected MSPs decided that the floor area should be doubled to 33,000 m (355,000 square feet). That did not help to keep the costs down!

Personally, I have tried to like the new building, but often felt that it was over-designed and a hotchpotch of many ideas which didn't complement its situation in a World Heritage site, across the road from a royal palace. Admittedly the preceding occupant of the site had been the HQ for a brewery company, so previous generations hadn't exactly preserved the history of the area! But for various reasons, I never took the opportunity to tour the building and look at it with my own eyes. Recently, I finally took the conducted tour of the public areas of the building and, thanks to a knowledgeable guide and some books bought in the parliament's souvenir shop, learned much more about the ideas behind many of the design features and so came away with my eyes opened as a result.

The Location


The Holyrood site is dominated by the towering Salisbury Crags, remnants of an ancient volcano and now part of Holyrood Park and the volcanic plug of Arthur's Seat. The main architect, Spaniard Enric Miralles wanted to ensure that symbolically the building was linked to the land of Scotland and waving grass-covered structures running back from the building into Holyrood Park represented living stems growing from that landscape, while the buildings themselves, in plan view, look like leaves on a plant. Miralles was also struck by the historic site, at the end of the Royal Mile which links Edinburgh castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (and the even more ancient ruined abbey located beside it). And above the parliament on Calton Hill are the Grecian columns of a National monument. This began in 1825 but came to a screeching halt a few years later when the money ran out. Even closer to the parliament site is the former Royal High School, which many thought could form a fine parliament building - but would have been too small to accommodate the eventual requirements of the new legislature. Anyway, Scotland deserved a 21st century building, looking to the future and not rooted in the past.

Some of the Design Features
In addition to hearing about the design concept of a plant, rooted in the land and the buildings shaped to signify the leaves being nourished by those stems and roots, I picked up a number of observations about elements of the building from wandering round the Scottish Parliament building on the conducted tour and from a couple of books on the building obtained from the souvenir shop. For example:

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