Visit: Scottish Parliament, Holyrood

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In a continuation of my visits to institutional spaces as part of the fieldwork period, my August bank holiday weekend was spent in Edinburgh visiting the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood (and exploring the final few days of the Edinburgh Fringe).

The Scottish Parliament Building is the home of the Scottish Parliament - the devolved, unicameral legislature of Scotland. Following a referendum in 1997, Scotland voted for a devolved parliament. A Scottish Parliament had previously existed as the national legislature of the Kingdom of Scotland until the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The devolved parliament can make new laws in certain areas such as health and education, whereas others such as foreign policy are reserved matters for Parliament in Westminster.

The building is located in Holyrood, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the foot of the Royal Mile close to Arthur's Seat and was designed by EMBT Architects (Enric Miralles, Benedetta Tagliabue). The building was opened in 2004 and its final construction costs came in at £414m. After a quick walk around the site I made my way through airport style security into the foyer/reception area which was currently staging the last few days of the World Press Photo 2018 exhibition.

Above: Images of the Scottish Parliament under construction (Source: Scottish Parliament)

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The tour began in the education space close to the central foyer where a brief presentation took place on the history of Scottish politics and the architecture of the building. Shortly after we started the tour by making our way to the Garden Lobby. The Garden Lobby is the central circulation space in the Parliament between MSP offices and the debating chamber. MSPs often have informal meeting here with their staff or constituents. The space reminded me a lot of Portcullis House in Westminster due to its lack of ornamentation and cafe-like feel (yet without the leaking roof). The Garden Lobby, unsurprisingly, looks out onto the Parliament Garden which is a pleasant backdrop for the space and holds a number of sculptures gifted by other nations legislatures

The tour guide informed us that the building has no air conditioning system and that there are air vents in the 'upturned boat' rooflights in the ceiling which open to let air in. Despite the criticisms, I actually found the 'upturned boats' a rather impressive design feat, despite the terrible story of 'leaves on a branch' which Miralles justifies the plan form with.

 

 The Garden Lobby with the 'upturned boat' rooflights  (Source: Scottish Parliament)

The Garden Lobby with the 'upturned boat' rooflights  (Source: Scottish Parliament)

 A speech being given at the bottom of the grand stairs in the Garden Lobby which lead to the Debating Chamber  (Source: Scottish Parliament)

A speech being given at the bottom of the grand stairs in the Garden Lobby which lead to the Debating Chamber  (Source: Scottish Parliament)

The tour then moved on to the debating chamber via a few offices which could be booked out by the MSPs and their staff. The offices were nothing of significant importance architecturally, yet we were made to notice their complete transparency which we were told was a big consideration in the design of the whole complex - there are many discussions around the use of glass and whether or not this leads to transparency in these kinds of institutions but that is a whole other blog post.

After a short walk up a glazed walkway, we entered the floor level of the debating chamber. Throughout the building there is a use of slate and hard surface flooring, yet as soon as you enter the periphery of the debating chamber this all changes to carpet - an acoustic feature to prevent sound travel and distortion. In contrast to the other chambers I have visited so far during my fieldwork, this was quite easily the lightest and most impressive. The reinforced steel and laminated timber roof structure allows for a span of 30m without any columns. It additionally allows for a significant amount of light to enter from the sides and the ceiling. As this was the final stop of the tour, I returned afterwards to visit the public gallery in order to view the chamber from a different angle.

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Having visited the site of the Scottish Parliament on quite a few occasions, it is always the landscape which amazes me every time I return. On previous visits I don't think I had quite appreciated the landscaping of the Parliament building as much as I did this time as I took a wander around the back towards the Dynamic Earth centre. From here there is a great view through to the Palace of Holyrood with the public gardens and ponds of the Parliament in the foreground (photograph below). On the day of my visit there was a 'Tough Mudder' style event taking place at the foot of Arthur's Seat and members of the public were using the stepped nature of the landscaping to take group photos after the finish line. To me this is really one of the successes of the scheme as although Holyrood is slightly out of the city centre, it's still a really well populated space where visitors do linger rather than just pass by. One down side, as can be said for Westminster, is the proximity that the roads get to the building but maybe that's something that won't be dealt with until our reliance on cars subsides. As a result, in 2009, an anti-terror roundabout was installed at the rear of the Parliament close to the entrance to the underground carpark as a preventative measure. Security is an issue which is extremely important in regards to the design of these buildings, yet especially in light of the recent incident outside the Palace of Westminster, I personally think pedestrianistion makes a lot of sense and should be considered much more seriously.

Overall the visit to the Scottish Parliament has given me yet another perspective on the possible design of a legislature and the links that can be made between the landscape of the site and the building - this is something I intend to explore within my own thesis design over the coming months.

 Above: Scottish Parliament Landscape Plan (Source: Scottish Parliament)

Above: Scottish Parliament Landscape Plan (Source: Scottish Parliament)

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 In 2009 an anti-terror roundabout was installed at the entrance to the underground car park close to the Dynamic Earth centre

In 2009 an anti-terror roundabout was installed at the entrance to the underground car park close to the Dynamic Earth centre


Below: A few images from around the Edinburgh Fringe

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Tom Ardron