Architecture: What will the Scottish parliament look like?

Competing designs for the Scottish Parliament are focusing on one aspect to the exclusion of all others
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The Independent Culture
THE QUEST to find the architect to build the new Scottish Parliament has turned into a beauty contest centred on debating chamber designs from the five short-listed architects. It is precisely what the Scottish Office, which organised the talent contest, didn't want to happen when it sent around the country what Donald Dewar, Secretary of State, calls "visualisations" by the architects.

The Scottish Office asked for ideas about developing the site, which is at the eastern end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Public access, road routes and landscape gardening interest them as much as attitude. It was all very high minded. Nothing so basic as materials let alone scale models, plans and elevations.

However, from the day the exhibition of five presentation boards opened at the Royal Museum in Scotland, attention focused on the debating chamber (see pictures below) which means so much to the Scots after 300 years of Westminster rule. Inevitably, the most thoughtful of the visualisations, with complicated sources and imagery, by Miralles, didn't come off very well, which is why it hasn't had a good press yet. How the architects deal with the old Queensberry House, which will remain on site, is another important issue.

How can people vote for the best design of the Scottish Parliament when there isn't one? At this stage, the debating chamber is no more than a twinkle in the architect's eye. Yet the selection committee has promised to take public opinion into account when they announce the winner in the first week of July. But what will the public make of the "visualisations" that are circulating in Scotland?

Asked by The Independent if a round debating chamber was important to prevent, at least visually, the confrontational taking of sides Donald Dewar said: "We're not prescriptive, though we do want to get away from the serried ranks of politicians in opposition at what is literally a sword's length apart in Westminster. But it doesn't have to be a sphere."

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