A craggy, wild collage of forms to create an earthy idea of nationhood

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Indy Politics

Huge costs, political infighting, architecture as punch-bag. But today, the new Scottish Parliament stands below Edinburgh's glorious Salisbury Crags having lived up to the metaphor that drove its architects, Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, to the very edge of architectural possibility - and to an earthy conception of nationhood.

Huge costs, political infighting, architecture as punch-bag. But today, the new Scottish Parliament stands below Edinburgh's glorious Salisbury Crags having lived up to the metaphor that drove its architects, Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, to the very edge of architectural possibility - and to an earthy conception of nationhood.

This is a wonderful building precisely because of its collage of forms and images. Those who find it a bizarre kit of surreal parts have failed to grasp the intent that drove its design.

Westminster radiates the past, the forthcoming Welsh Assembly is an essay in modernity - but the Scottish Parliament has swallowed the lot: past, present and future.

Its appearance is a detailed response to Salisbury Crags and the way the land falls from the great basalt ridge to the bottom of the Royal Mile. Its form mirrors that volcanic rupture, so dramatically topped and tailed by glacial erosion. It is a grandly figurative gesture, yet without a hint of pomp and circumstance.

The architecture sends a clear message: that the governance of Scotland is rooted in the most basic ingredient of its culture - a landscape that should remind Scots that a coherent future depends on a bond with history and place. Mr Miralles and Mr Tagliabue, Catalans with a fierce sense of their own culture, were not showboating. The Scottish Parliament was designed with an almost furious passion that generated no less than 16,000 architectural drawings.

And a fine sense for the details: the approach to the Parliament is superb; the interlocking caves and shutes of its reception areas are spectacular; the debating chamber is structurally extraordinary; and the MSPs' offices are superb. Yet one small, delicate idea seems to sum up the resonance of this architecture even more potently. In the loose stone rubble of the Parliament's gabion walls, Mr Miralles specified the planting of wild flowers. The same sticky catchfly, viper's bugloss, common storksbill and rock whitebeam that he noticed growing on the path to the ridge of Salisbury Crags.

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