Overall design approach
Architect Enric Miralles observed in 1999 that:
" We don't want to forget that the Scottish Parliament will be in Edinburgh, but will belong to Scotland, to the Scottish land. The Parliament should be able to reflect the land it represents. The building should arise from the sloping base of Arthur's Seat and arrive into the city almost surging out of the rock."
Thus, Miralles sought to design a parliament building that could represent and present a national identity. This intractably difficult question was tackled by displacing the question of identity into the landscape of Scotland. In a characteristically poetic approach he talked about slotting the building into the land "in the form of a gathering situation: an amphitheatre, coming out from Arthur's Seat" where the building would reflect a dialogue between the landscape and the act of people sitting. So an early goal of the design was to open the building and its public spaces, not just to Edinburgh but also to a more general concept of the Scottish landscape. The result was a non-hierarchical, organic collection of low-lying buildings intended to allow views of, and blend in with, the surrounding rugged scenery and symbolize the connection between nature and the Scottish people.
As a consequence the building has many features connected to nature and land, such as the leaf shaped motifs of the roof in the Garden Lobby of the building, and the large windows of the debating chamber, committee rooms and the Tower Buildings which face the broad expanse of Holyrood Park, Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags. Inside the buildings, the connection to the land is reinforced by the use of Scottish rock such as gneiss and granite in the flooring and walls, and the use of oak and sycamore in the construction of the furniture.
The Parliament is actually a campus of several buildings, reflecting different architectural styles, with a total floor area of 31,000 square metres (312,000 sq ft), providing accommodation for MSPs, their researchers and parliamentary staff. The buildings have a variety of features, with the most distinctive external characterization being the roof of the Tower Buildings, said to be reminiscent of upturned boats on the shoreline.
The Garden Lobby
The Garden Lobby, see Figure 3, is at the centre of the parliamentary complex and connects the debating chamber, committee rooms and administrative offices of the Tower Buildings, with Queensberry House and the MSP building. The Garden Lobby is the place where official events as well as television interviews normally take place and it is used as an open social space for MSPs and parliamentary staff. The main feature of the Garden Lobby is the roof lights, which when viewed from above resemble leaves or the early Christian "vesica" shape and allow natural light into the building. The roof lights are made from stainless steel and a lattice of solid oak struts covers the glasswork. The route through the Garden Lobby up the main staircase to the debating chamber has been described as "one of the great processional routes in contemporary architecture."
Figure 3: The Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament Complex
The debating chamber
As shown in Figure 4, the debating chamber contains a shallow elliptical horseshoe of seating for the MSPs, with the governing party or parties sitting in the middle of the semicircle and opposition parties on either side, similar to other European legislatures.
Figure 4: The finished chamber
Such a layout is intended to blur political divisions and principally reflects the desire to encourage consensus amongst elected members. There are 131 desks and chairs on the floor of the chamber for all the elected members of the Scottish Parliament and members of the Scottish Government. The desks are constructed out of oak and sycamore and are fitted with a lectern, a microphone and in-built speakers as well as the electronic voting equipment used by MSPs. Galleries above the main floor can accommodate a total of 255 members of the public, 18 guests and 34 members of the press.
The most notable feature of the chamber is the roof. The roof is supported by a structure of laminated oak beams joined with a total of 112 stainless steel connectors (each slightly different), which in turn are suspended on steel rods from the walls. Welders for Scotland's oil industry fabricated the connecting nodes. Such a structure enables the debating chamber to span over 30 metres (100 ft) without any supporting columns. In entering the chamber, MSPs pass under a stone lintel - the Arniston Stone - that was once part of the pre-1707 Parliament building, Parliament House. The use of the Arniston Stone in the structure of the debating chamber symbolizes the connection between the historical Parliament of Scotland and the present day Scottish Parliament.
Glimpses out of the chamber are given to the landscape and city beyond, intentionally, to visually connect the MSPs to Scotland. The necessities of a modern parliament, banks of light, cameras, electronic voting and the MSPs' console have all been transformed into works of craft and art, displaying the sweeping curves and leaf motifs that inform the rest of the building. Such is the level of craftsmanship, a result of the union of Miralles' inventive designs, superb detailing by RMJM and excellent craftsmanship in execution, that Jencks was prompted to state that the [Parliament] is "an arts and crafts building, designed with high-tech flair".
Subsequent Note: On March 2, 2006, a beam in the roof of the debating chamber swung loose from its hinges during a debate, resulting in the evacuation of the debating chamber and the suspension of parliamentary business. Parliament moved to other premises while the whole roof structure was inspected and remedial works were carried out. The structural engineers, Arup, stated that the problem with the collapsed beam was entirely due to the failure of one bolt and the absence of another. There was no design fault. The engineers concluded, in a report to MSPs, that the damage is likely to have been done during construction work on the chamber roof, in the latter phases of the project. The report also indicated that whilst one of the bolts was missing, the other was broken and had damaged threads commensurate with being over tightened or jammed, which twisted the head off, or came close to doing so.