By far the most controversial public building to be erected in Scotland since World War II, the Scottish Parliament houses the country’s directly elected assembly. A separate parliament to look after the running of internal Scottish affairs was reintroduced to the British constitution in 1999, nearly 200 years after the previous Scottish parliament had joined the English assembly at Westminster as part of the Union of the two nations in 1707. The home of the directly elected parliament was eventually opened in 2004, late and dramatically over-budget – initial estimates for the building’s cost were tentatively put at £40 million; the final bill was over £400 million. Made up of various linked elements rather than one single building, the complex was designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles, whose death in 2000, halfway through the building process, caused ripples of uncertainty as to whether he had in fact set down his final draft. However, the finished product is an impressive – if imperfect – testament to the ambition of Miralles, and it has won over the majority of the architectural community, scooping numerous awards including Britain’s prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize in 2005.
There’s free access into the entrance lobby of the Parliament, entered from Horse Wynd, opposite the palace, where you’ll find a small exhibition providing some historical, political and architectural background. If parliament is in session, it’s normally possible to watch proceedings in the debating chamber from the public gallery. To see the rest of the interior properly you’ll need to join one of the regular guided tours, well worth doing to get a more detailed appreciation of the building’s design.
Some of the most memorable features of the building are the fanciful motifs and odd architectural signatures running through the design, including the anvil-shaped cladding, and the extraordinary windows of the offices for MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), said to have been inspired by a monk’s contemplative cell. The stark concrete of the interior may not be to all tastes, though several of the staircases and passageways remain evocative of the country’s medieval castles.
The main debating chamber is grand yet intimate, with light flooding in through high windows and a complex network of thick oak beams, lights and microphone wires. The European-style layout is a deliberate move away from the confrontational Westminster model, though some have been quick to point out that while the traditional inter-party insults still fly, the quality of the parliamentarians’ rhetoric rarely matches that of the soaring new arena.