The Scottish Parliament Building by Enric Miralles
In words and photographs
These pages are adorned with fine photographs of the Scottish Parliament Building, in the historic Holyrood district of Edinburgh. Standing just a stone’s throw away from the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the monarch’s official residence in Scotland), the building opened in 2004. It houses the main debating chamber and committee rooms of the Parliament, as well as administrative and office accommodation for the 129 MSPs and over 1,000 staff and civil servants.
The distinctively detailed postmodern design is the vision of the Catalan architect Enric Miralles, who died at the age of 45 some four years before construction of his greatest work was completed.
Criticism and commendations
Miralles aimed to make the Scottish Parliament Building reflect the country that it represents, and to distinguish it from other European parliaments. The result draws inspiration from the Scottish land and seascapes, from rocky outcrops such as the nearby Salisbury Crags, through upturned fishing boats mimicked in the roof of the Garden Lobby, to leaf and fish motifs throughout.
The notion of placing a quirky, postmodern design so close to the ancient buildings of the Royal Mile and Holyrood Palace was widely criticised, and I confess I had reservations after seeing the early models. But I was wrong. To erect instead some kind of mock Scottish baronial palace would have been as much a mistake as a featureless glass/steel/concrete edifice of the kind so common in civic architecture in Britain. Miralles’s magnum opus may be a lot to take in at first, but it grows on you — as it has on the people of Edinburgh, despite initial doubts. Nowadays, I feel the Parliament complex sits comfortably in its place, nestling in the hollow between the Canongate, the Palace and Arthur’s Seat.
The architecture community — always less conservative than the general public — was largely convinced of the building’s merits from the outset, and praised Miralles’s work widely. Amongst other awards, in 2005 the building won the RIBA Stirling Prize, the most prestigious award for architecture in the UK.
— Jonathan Glancey (architecture correspondent, The Guardian newspaper)
Miralles might have woven this magical building through with arcane symbolism, but whatever it all means, this matters less than the feeling that its splintered richness evokes the spirit of a confident, relaxed, inventive and generous democracy.
Costs and context
Much has been made of the escalating cost of the project throughout its construction, especially in comparison to the often-quoted initial estimate of £40m. But the £40m figure is a complete red herring, based as it was on the assumption that the Parliament would occupy the former Royal High School building on Calton Hill (already once converted for the Scottish Assembly that never was), and St Andrew’s House (the civil service building opposite). £40m would have covered the necessary alteration costs. But as soon as the decision was taken to develop a wholly new building on a brownfield site, the £40m figure simply did not apply.
All the same, costs did rise as work progressed, due in part to the “scope creep” that seems inevitable in this kind of project. Not the least of which was the need for bomb-proofing, following the events of September 11, 2001 — which no-one could have predicted before building began. The final cost — to the horror of those actively seeking to be horrified — was £414m. A substantial sum, but one that should be put in context. It bought a parliament building — perhaps the most important building any nation can erect — and one that was designed purposefully to bring all the essential spaces and facilities together on a single site, rather than a half-baked conversion of an old school and an office block, which are separated by a major road. And it bought a striking piece of world-class architecture, befitting of its status as the home of the Scottish Government. It seems a pretty good deal, considering that:
Great White Elephantcost £789m, £603m of that coming from the public through National Lottery grants (which was £204m in excess of the original estimate of the grant required). Its intended use having been a cultural and financial flop, it cost a further £600m to redevelop as a concert arena and entertainment venue.
- the new Wembley Stadium opened four years late at a cost of £798m, £161m of which came from public funds (£20m from the UK government Department of Culture, Media & Sport; £21m from the London Development Agency; and £120m in National Lottery grants to purchase the old Wembley Stadium). Yes, you read that right: a total cost of more than three-quarters of a billion pounds for… a football park.
Besides, how much would Westminster cost today?
So here, then, are all of the photographs that appear randomly on pages of this little website, complete with details of the photographers and copyrights. Click on a photograph to see a larger version.
I gratefully acknowledge that the photographs by Adam Elder and Andrew Cowan are licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence version 1.0.
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