Surrounded by the chain of controversies since the inception of the project, the Scottish Parliament building has been the most discussed modern edifice of Scotland. Its complicated architecture, made of steel, oak, and granite, was acclaimed as one of the most inventive designs in Britain following its inaugural. This composition of disparate structures was the most famous work of the Spanish architect, Enric Miralles. Sadly, the construction phase of the project outlived Miralles. Yet, the magnificence of the project earned him the renowned 2005 Stirling Prize award posthumously.
The Scottish Parliament Building is situated at the foot of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, facing Holyrood Palace and with Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat in the background. The completion of the project was late by three years from its expected date of delivery with a total cost of £414 million, well above the initial predictions of £10-40 million.
Miralles aimed to create a legislative building that could both embody and express a country’s identity. As a result, an early ambition of the design was to open the building and its public areas to a broader sense of the Scottish environment, not simply to Edinburgh. The outcome was a non-hierarchical, organic assemblage of low-lying buildings that were designed to provide views of and blend in with the surrounding rocky landscape while also symbolizing the relationship between nature and the Scots.
The Parliamentary campus is made up of numerous buildings with varying architectural styles and a combined floor area of 31,000 square meters that houses MSPs, their researchers, and legislative staff. The use of Scottish rock such as gneiss and granite in the flooring and walls, as well as oak and sycamore in the furniture construction, reinforces the buildings’ link to the land. The Tower Buildings’ roof, which is considered to be reminiscent of overturned boats on the coast, is the most prominent external feature.
The Main Hall is the first point of interaction for the general public with the Scottish Parliament. Three tapering concrete vaults make up the Main Hall. The vaults were cast on-site and included abstract designs of the Saltire cross by Enric Miralles. Each of the three vaults has a unique lightwell with different designs that allow natural light to enter the room. A permanent exhibition explains the workings of the Scottish Parliament through text, artefacts, audio-visual, and computer-based displays.
Directly above the Main Hall is the Debating Chamber. It was designed specifically to fulfil the demands of Parliament, the general public, and the media. Glimpses of the environment and cities outside the chamber are purposely given to connect the MSPs to Scotland visually. The needs of a modern parliament, such as banks of light, cameras, electronic voting, and the MSPs’ console, have all been converted into pieces of art, exhibiting the building’s sweeping curves and leaf themes.
The complex’s south-eastern side has been substantially landscaped. Members of the public can sit and rest on concrete “branches” that stretch from the parliamentary buildings, that are covered in turf and natural grass. Much of the area is covered in native Scottish wildflowers and plants, which merge the Parliament’s grounds with the surrounding Holyrood Park and Salisbury Crags.
The Members’ office accommodation’s distinctive façade immediately became Holyrood’s first famous picture. A silhouette of the Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch from Raeburn’s famous picture is claimed to have inspired the shape of the windows. The windows jut out at different widths and face both directions to break up the monotony of the façade.
Materials and Construction
The Kemnay granite and Caithness stone used for much of the flooring throughout the Scottish Parliament are visible in the main hall, as are the majority of the materials used in its construction. The roof of the debating chamber, as mentioned earlier, is one of the prominent features of the complex design. Reinforced steel and laminated oak beams make up the roof framework. This allows the chamber to span 30 meters without the use of supporting columns, covering a space of about 1200 square meters. One of the chamber’s most noticeable design characteristics is the ceiling beams, which are held in place by 112 unique stainless steel nodes or connecting joints produced in Aberdeen.
1,000 square meters of laminated glass panels line the west wall of the chamber. Each panel has a sycamore veneer layer placed in horizontal strips between two layers of glass, with characteristic cut-out designs that the architect meant as people shapes to give the room a human scale.
With a total of 114 bay windows, the facade of the MSP building is among the distinct features of the overall design. The stainless steel windows are encased in oak, with oak lattices providing privacy and shade for some MSPs. The cladding around the windows is made up of a mosaic of materials, including Aberdeenshire’s Kemnay granite and a darker South African granite. A window seat and shelving are included in each bay window office. Enric Miralles created this location as a “contemplation space.”
From MSPs’ offices to the Debating Chamber and Committee Rooms, the Garden Lobby is the principal path. The Garden Lobby’s prominent feature is the twelve leaf-shaped roof lights. The distinctive roof lights, which are made of stainless steel and glass with solid oak struts, allow a lot of natural light to enter the room. Many of the steel panels surrounding the roof lights have cut-outs in the shape of a map of Scotland’s west coast. The shape of the panels that can be seen on the façades of several of the buildings can be observed beyond the cut-out.
Miralles proposed fitting the structure into the landscape “in the form of a gathering situation: an amphitheatre, coming out of Arthur’s Seat,” where the structure would represent a dialogue between the scenery and the act of people sitting. Miralles intended to make the parliament building the terminus of the Canongate.
A variety of sustainability considerations were incorporated into the design of the Scottish Parliament Building. It was constructed on a brownfield site, with all of the building’s electricity coming from renewable sources and solar panels. During the winter months, the building was kept warm with a high amount of insulation. Due to their energy-efficient design, MSP offices received a high rating for the low levels of expected carbon dioxide emissions. Natural ventilation and illumination are used to reduce energy use whenever possible. The building receives the highest score in the Environmental Assessment Method of the Building Research Establishment (BREEAM).
Another distinct feature of the complex is the presence of 11 beehives at the Scottish Parliament which are located in the Member’s Garden and may be seen from the Member’s restaurant during the summer. All of the greenery in Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat, as well as the plants and flowers in the Parliament’s Gardens and wildflower meadows, is accessible to the bees. Each autumn, the beehives generate 80 to 120 pounds of honey, which is bottled and sold in the Scottish Parliament gift shop.
Adding to the list of sustainable features of the project, the location chosen for the building plays a major role. The Parliament was built to allow everyone who works there to travel to work sustainably. The Parliament is only a 15-minute walk from Edinburgh’s main train station, and Princes Street is nearby, with buses running to all sections of the city and beyond. The staff has access to over 100 bicycle racks. Visitors can also park their bicycles outside the building.
The public’s attitude to the building’s design has been varied. 250,000 individuals visited the building in the first six months after it opened to the public. Despite the controversy, the project is widely regarded as an architectural success, with the building being lauded as one of the most inventive in the UK.
The structure has also received many accolades, including a prize at the VIII Biennial of Spanish Architecture, the RIAS Andrew Doolan Award for Architecture, and the 2005 Stirling Prize, the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize. The structure was voted Scotland’s 4th finest modern building by Prospect magazine readers in October 2005.