Monday, August 24, 2009

Scottish Parliament Building

We holidayed in Scotland this year – back in early July. We’d arrived in Edinburgh in early afternoon. The weather was atrocious. Parked up in a central multi-storey, we headed out into the city, aiming to get as little wet as possible.

Window seats set into the outside walls of MSP offices

So we headed down the street to see the Scottish Parliament. The first view of it was the far wall of the MSP office building. Each MSP office has a uniquely shaped window seat set into the wall, allowing MSPs time to reflect on the matters of their day. Not sure how many use their thinking spots? Apparently part of the opposite wall of their offices is clear and looks out onto a big corridor.

Heading around towards the front entrance, winding our way along the blast proof wall that surrounds Scotland’s seat of democracy, the public entrance is easy to find and as welcoming as an airport scanner can be!

Display showing the make up of the Scottish Parliament

There’s a small exhibition area documenting the history, shape and size of the parliament and its buildings, and plenty of leaflets (translated into plenty of languages) to explain what you can see.

Since it was the summer recess there was no restriction on heading upstairs to wander around the visitors’ gallery and take photos overlooking the main parliament hall.

Scottish Parliament - debating chamber

The parliament complex was designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles and his EMBT Architects practice. Like everything in politics, the choice of site, architect, design and spiralling costs were all criticised. Although neither Miralles nor First Minister Donald Dewar lived to see the completed construction and opening of the building, their wish for a building that reflected Scottish landscape, people and culture – and one with a debating chamber that would encourage consensus politics – was largely successful.

I’m reading Alan Balfour’s account of Creating a Scottish Parliament at the moment. It tells the interwoven tales of a fascinating political and architectural journey. That the initial vision and highly conceptual drawings (ie, don’t look like much!) should have produced such an appealing and functional building is a triumph. Recommended reading for anyone interested.

Mugs celebrating 10 years of Scottish devolution on sale in the Scottish Parliament shop

Two items in the shop stood out.

One were the mugs celebrating ten years of devolution in Scotland.

Bottles of whisky on sale in the Scottish Parliament shop

The other the Scottish Whisky being openly sold alongside teddy bears and tea-towels. I’m not expecting to see either of these up at Stormont!

It’s a beautiful building that feels very open, accessible. If you find yourself in Edinburgh, plan to visit it. There’s even a crèche that you can book children into if, as a member of the public, you’ve come to watch or take part in a committee session.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is constrained by the edifice at the top of the hill at Stormont (Parliament Buildings to be precise), and already has a functioning debating chamber and committee rooms. But there is surely much about the ethos and atmosphere of the Scottish Parliament that can be considered when improving the current public facilities and engagement at Stormont over the coming months and years.


Mark said...

One of the things I loved about Edinburgh was the architecture, much of it very photo-friendly indeed.

And one of my favourite buildings, and indeed favourite places, in the city is Holyrood. For all the criticism, it's a fantastic building.

Dawn Baird said...

The building is lovely, though many locals seem to hate it, apart from looks, they hate the money that was spent on it.