Edinburgh. One can readily imagine, even if they have not yet been there, a historic city full of monumental stone buildings, narrow cobbled streets, myth and stories winking at them at each way they turn their heads to. When one does visit, like I did a week ago, the sense of history and legend overcomes you at first, wandering around the streets of the Old Town awestruck and gaping with wonder as I did. Yet, I discovered that modern architecture is alive and well in the Scottish capital, waiting for the architecture buff to discover it. Most characteristic example of course is the New Scottish Parliament by the late Enric Miralles & his wife Benedetta Tagliabue along with RMJM architects.
Unfortunatelly Miralles did not live long enough to see his masterpiece finished. The sprawling complex of buildings lies in front of the palace of Holyrood, at the end of Edinburgh's main street, the Royal Mile, at the feet of the imposing Salisbury Crags. Made from a mixture of oak, granite and steel, all materials that define Scotland, it is a building that has attracted heaps of praise as well as controversy. It has won many prestigious architecural awards in Great Britain and beyond, most notably the RIBA Stirling prize, the RIAS Andrew Doolan Award for Architecture and the Architecture Grand Prix at the Scottish Design Awards.
Miralles said he drew inspiration from the surrounding area, Rennie Macintosh's flower painting and images of upturned boats ashore, to make a building growing out of the land and carved into the land. In the architect's words: "This is not a building in a park or garden but rather the form for gathering people. Instead of a building as an overwhelming monument, with rhetorical forms and classical dimensions, this building is conceived by a psychological approach. The Parliament is a fragment of a large gathering situation. This natural amphitheatre that slopes, is what the land is offering us to build on. It is a diagram that could be explained in many ways…This social concept could have many "forms".A story definition is needed; Citizens sitting, resting, thinking but in a similar place and position as the parliamentarians".
The New Scottish Parliament is comprised of five buildings: The Cannongate building (seen above), which encompasses the façade of the old building situated at the site, and also the Cannongate wall, seen at the bottom of the building , which incorporates inlaid stones with phrases and lyrics by famous Scottish writers, the Queensberry House, a 17th century listed building integrated in the new buliding, the Media Tower at the corner of Horse Wynd (see first photo) which has many of the characteristic panels found throughout the building (described by Benedetta Tagliabue as "curtains"), the MSP building housing the MSP's offices and the Tower Buildings, fanning behind the Debating Chamber.
Surrounding the building is a great landscaped garden, partly made in the style of a Scottish knot garden. Lots of indigenous trees and plants have been used throughout, and using water and slate tiles is also a major theme. Surprisingly enough, the huge complex fits well with the surrounding traditional building and makes a very welcoming contrast with the opposing stuffy building of Holyrood Palace. It is a testament to the architect's talent that the building fits so well with the nearby buildings, proving the success of their original concept. One can visit the building for free and especially the Debating Chamber (only on Thursdays), made of wood, glass and steel, to enjoy the Parliament in session and admire the design of the building.