Finlay Brown- 2005
⇒ Purchase Creating
a Scottish Parliament on Finlay Brown ⇐
‘At the end of most streets of Edinburgh’s
Old Town rises the crimson wall of Salisbury Craigs a lesson in the
unimaginable forces and lapses of time which have gone to shape the
world. The Craigs are a basalt intrusion, a fossil tide of volcanic
rock which surged through the foundations of a dead volcano some 200
million years ago. Geology and paleontology, with their revelations
of deep time and alien life-forms, towered up wherever 19th century
Scots turned their eyes. The ‘testimony of the rocks’ threatened
their moral universe, its narrative incompatible with a creation myth
or even with a creator ….Old Edinburgh is shaped like a gigantic
lecture theater with the end wall covered by a chart of the earth’s
‘STONE VOICES’ Neal Ascherson
The New Parliament of Scotland is the most recent strata in the
wake of this fossil tide, and the most human. It is an original and significant
work of public architecture - a work of world distinction. In conceptual
ambition and visceral presence it has no equal in Scottish history.
At the presentation that awarded the commission the architect
Enric Miralles stated his fundamental concept for the Parliament the
building should originate from the sloping base of Arthur’s Seat
and arrive into the city almost out of the rock (2).
Miralles in an interview given when the Scottish Parliament was much in
his mind described his conceptual process you're not just working with
the physical reality of the moment, but with the physical reality of everything
that has been there as well, or that has built up the place (3).
Architecture can have far wider and longer lasting influence than
any other work of art. Works of national architecture are explicitly constructed
to last centuries and are always in performance. Fashion, fate and the
market determines the life of a work of music (4),
of a painting or sculpture or writing for the theater, as they have evolved
into primarily consumer products. Rarely in the commissioning of a work
of art is there an explicit demand for permanence and even more rarely
is it asked to embody lasting values that will affect and shape national
identity (5). In its highest form this
is the task for architecture (6).
A work such as this is shaped to be inspiration and instrument,
stage and play. Architecture is unavoidable stage and play, by necessity
it has to attempt in forming the stage to anticipate the plays that it
will carry. Strong architecture unavoidably influences the players. Long
before it became a reality, the future acts of the Scottish Parliament
were acted out in the imagination of the architect. As he shaped every
space he would imagine it in performance and the results gave rise to
patterns of space and activity. In the creation of such architecture the
language that initiates a concept is slowly dispensed with and distilled
down to a gesture, and that gesture becomes the physical form of the building,
(and that embodiment that in essence is human.) In an interview in 1995
he said the term empathy you propose is very appropriate. I think
I often work by empathy or by identification with the objects I produce.
I often imagine people moving around the building, moving through walls
and pillars like in the field of forces in which the occupants out of
an integral part of it (7).
By 1998 Miralles had emerged as a forcefully original architectural
imagination. His EMBT Studio, consisted of Enrique Miralles, and Benedetta
Tagliabue, his partner since the early 90’s and his wife, (before
that his partnership had been with his previous wife Carme Pinos). The
project that had gained most attention was the Igualada Cemetery, but
all the work of the H had been carefully reported in major European magazines
over the previous decade. There were several published monographs and
major exhibitions had been held in Europe, the United States and Japan.
He was as much in demand as a teacher as he was a practitioner. He held
the Chair in Architecture at the Barcelona School, was Director of the
Master Class at the Stadelschule in Frankfurt and was given the Kenzo
Tange Chair at Harvard in 1992 (8). At
the time of the competition he was one of but a handful of truly original
imaginations world wide.
For Miralles this process of distilling down to a gesture was
achieved by tracing and retracing an idea over and over until it became
something other than itself. In an interview in 1995 he said the work
of repetition is very important to the production of the embodiment or
of an idea, it is the longest task, for the architecture becomes recognizable
beyond the specific initial data. I work with constructive, not visual
criteria, and so repetition is extremely important. Each new sketch is
an operation in oblivion or in the laws that are generated have an internal
And the distillation of the months of thought that had formed
his concept for the parliament lay on the thirteen sheets of flimsy tracing
paper that he placed before Donald Dewar in the final presentation to
the competition jury on June 22nd 1998 (10).
(The finalists had been selected on May 7th). Donald Dewar a Labor Member
of Parliament and at that time Secretary of State for Scotland had led
the cause for Scotland’s relative independence, its devolution.
Miralles ignored most of the elaborate models, and photomontages
mounted on the walls around him, concentrating his energy instead on a
sequence of hand drawn studies he had prepared, which would give life
to the essential ideas from which he would form the parliament. All the
ideas on these flimsy sheets remained present in the work as it evolved
and still define the essential character of the architecture as constructed.
What follows is a close reading of these drawings. They present a rare
opportunity to enter into a creative mind. They were literally drawn out
of scrapbooks. In preparing for the work he had wandered the streets of
Edinburgh old and new then driven on the company of an inspired guide
the length and breadth of Scotland photographing and scribbling notes
and images as he went (11). He was a great
admirer of the Scottish people he felt they had an affinity with his own
Catalan character, and he had both studied and taught in Scotland over
the years (12). He came to Jury with two
overarching concepts that would guide all his composing; es un lugar
mental the parliament is a form in the peoples mind, and el Parliamento
se reune en la Terra the Parliament sits in the land.
These were the days in which all five of the finalists were presenting
to the jury. On arriving Miralles thought the layout of the room was too
inquisitorial so he immediately set about rearranging the furniture to
give the room a more congenial atmosphere. To someone who was there, it
was a surprisingly personal performance, high in theater and emotion.
At certain points he would move from the sketches to pick up one of the
exquisite balsa wood models which as he fingered and described what it
meant to him, it became precious – he would then hand it to the
jury. No one on that day could have imagined that the two principle architects
of the Scottish Parliament: Miralles the builder, and Dewar the politician,
would be dead before construction would begin.
There were thirteen drawings in all, three introductory drawings
established major themes and then a series of ten overlays portrayed the
evolution of the idea as a series of orchestrations derived from the land
and the city.
The first of three introductory drawings is dominated by a view
of the site of the parliament from Arthur’s Seat (traced from a
photograph). From the hillside in the foreground he has drawn the branches
of a tree whose three leaves dominate the page as they settle beside a
soft tracing of the outline of the 17th century mansion – Queensbury
House (the decision had already been taken to restore). The leaves suggest
forms and rhythms rippling around and flowing into this place.
The text on all the drawings are written both as instructions
to himself and key thoughts. The key text attends three interlocking circle
marked A, B, and C below are the key elements; A. Main Chamber, B.
Committee Rooms, C. Public Presentations. Below this, after commenting
on the dominance of committees, he calls for some more dialogue between
rooms, and looking at the drawing it seems that as he writes he sees
an image that would be a form of dialogue. Along side the text he draws
a little cluster of leaves, the first traces of forms which eventually
will become the central figures. Consider that he sees in his minds eye
the association between such spaces as leaves on a branch as he makes
a tiny drawing at the conclusion of the text. The form of the leaves begin
to assume larger significance as he draws, the leaves on the right dominating
the page. Look closely at the drawing, at the edge of each leaf is a tiny
letter A,B, C, and then to the left a key: ‘A, the Main Chamber,
B, a little leaf for the Public and C, the Committees. He
writes that this sketch is more useful at the moment of taking formal
decisions. It seems a metaphor, and it is almost a technical statement.
He explains the significance of the metaphor of the leaves;
the building of the parliament should sit in the place
with same logic and delicacy that organizes vegetal [sic] forms
leaves x trees
had always been an example’
Beneath that he notes Remember Macintosh reminding himself
and the jury that natural forms were a driving source of inspiration for
Macintosh,’ his last statement now the building should follow.
The implication is quite specific with this metaphorical insight the parliament
Having offered a metaphorical vision the second sheet evokes -
rather self consciously – a political vision in the three images
again traced from photographs. On the left a lone figure is sitting on
steps which become landscape with a terse note the body gestures.
Below that is a lively tracing of a seated formal gathering titled The
Highland Council meeting, between is the enigmatic statement: Two
faces of the same attitude. On the right of the page a careful copy
of a famous photograph from the 1900’s, The St Kilda Parliament,
the elected leaders of the tiny and remote island of St Kilda, (revived
in the cultural imagination in Douglas Dunn's 1980 novel of the same name)
(13). This image has great strength for
him, he writes:
Late XIX St Kilda Parliament
To Remember this is not an archaic activity
My generation (myself0 has experienced that emotion
Consider how different movements exist in present times
Architecture should be able to talk about this
These are offered not as nostalgic history but as a modest political
ideal. These three portrayals; the individual, the Highland Council, the
St Kilda Parliament he would have the architecture embrace, or in his
words the organization of forms should mirror this.
At the center of the drawing he writes
‘I imagine that a parliament building should
be organic like a university campus
A special kind of knowledge produces Parliament’s need to have
Places where to think to talk to walk
Across the middle of the page he holds a brief Socratic
exchange; what form should it take? He replies;
The palace could not be a model
The Dome should not be a model
here it must be Foster’s Reichstag that was in his
mind, rather than the United States Capital. He concludes that form may
lie in The Monastery with its cloister of connections
and independent constructions (the emphasis
is Miralles.) Along side this he offers a vague drawing of the diagram
for the Old College of Edinburgh University moving from one place
to another has to have specific meaning he observes, this must
not be one building but an accumulation of buildings each given distinct
character, function and construction. These are not casual observations
but specific instructions for him when sees in a metaphor or mix of metaphors
the gesture that will shape the stage he locks into it.
The last of the introductory drawings seems to be a late
edition. He may have been reacting to critical comments in the press that
this foreigner was going to make the Scotland Parliament look like upturned
boats (English boats at that (14)). He
I’m very happy that these boats had come in
the newspapers …
They are an image the ‘illuminates’ problems
They are not a fast solution.
Afraid people might assume that he had been tempted to shape parliament
in their image. Yet he does acknowledge the usefulness of the form:
of our first conversations
come back in a natural way …
Again they will help to decide when we
Think about chambers…
They are a wonderful example to follow
Besides the more conceptual approach
The drawings on the page are in pencil - no color- and not
as finished as the other sheets. A diagonal stream of lines crosses the
page from the top left; and ends in a cluster of figures, leaves in plan
but despite his protestations above they are unmistaken in the form of
upturned boats. However, the most curious figure on the page is the large
drawing on the left. It is strange that so early in the design process
he has such a clear image of the main chamber (the Assembly) that he feels
he must draw it. It is a significant mark, not for its boat like section,
but for the extensive screened skylight the rises up behind the dais,
an idea that survives into construction. (However at the time of the interview
the bats were not public, and this drawing may have been added to the
set later for exhibition (15)).
At the foot of the drawing he returns to his major preoccupation
The Scottish Parliament should find different building strategies
according to different parts’ he continues ‘our proposal
is trying to do it – it is not a single building it is an orchestrated
series of constructions
He proceeds to ask WHY NOT ONE BUILDING? [Miralles
caps] and answers A single building will have scale serious problems
at the site.
(Elsewhere he adds Every part of the building should
have the organizational form which is most coherent to its use.)
He then begins to present the set of overlays through which
he will literally draw out the conceptual form of the Parliament. Layer
upon layer, a palimpsested sequence of ideas from which the essential
architecture will emerge. The content is in the drawings, the notes merely
a guide to the thought process.
Immediately he states his purpose The aim of these pages..to
remember to find the common characteristics of the site and the land and
from these develop an iconography of the building of the parliament.’
At the top is an abstract passage a vague memory of Arthur’s Seat
the figure flows into a most careful tracing of the West side of Reid’s
Close seen from above (Reid’s Close is an ancient path the lane
that runs from the Canongate to Holyrood Road). As he draws he can feel
the scale and the material of the place, he notes ‘granite’
‘gray’ and…’small passages.’
He adds enigmatically ‘like to remember stones pile in the fields.’
The second layer; Reid’s Close from above is repeated
but now it faces a new and strange intrusion a long amorphic object, the
form of a building is emerging, alongside he descends to ground level
to offer a specific description of how he sees these undulating walls.
Behind is a swiftly drawn profile of the hills. He writes the new
building should…react to distant mountain profiles and reflect the
changing conditions of light. He is drawing what his minds eye sees
clearly, and as he empathizes with the qualities of the place he develops
a visceral sense of a material presence, different kinds of stone
he notes. The drawings are a fragile expression of the complex marriage
of poetry, materials and utility out of which an architecture will emerge.
The third layer again repeats the trace of Reid’s Close
and the long undulating mass that has been formed in mind as a reflection
of it. But the vignette is charged by a very precise drawing of Queensbury
House, all still viewed from above. What at first seemed to be careful
consideration of the actual place is instead a convenient rearrangement.
This to allow the scale of Canongate to infuse his thoughts in shaping
the body of the parliament – the Canongate in fact runs across the
face of Queensbury house. And it is on the page that he realizes that
the restoration of this 17thc mansion will as he notes, add scale
and precision to the project. He explores this by imagining the view
from within the old house of the new parliament, an exact drawing, a view
from a window. It is the same building he writes …fragment of
the city, real scale, the buildings he notes like neighbors , not
monumental. (his underline.)
Fourth has Queensbury House traced again in softest outline.
Here his interest is in the walls and gates that once enclosed a formal
garden. On the left he created an imaginary garden from the evidence of
a few surviving engravings. In between the walls he writes it
is possible to dream,…a resting place. He colors the garden
as a 18th century formal garden and allows wistful lines of desire to
flow from the site into the park. At this stage in his thinking the surviving
and restored historical buildings are allowed to frame the new work.
At the fifth level what was a void in the view of Queensbury
house in the fourth becomes a garden riotously in bloom. He is captivated
by the noble presence the house will give to the parliament, captivated
by recreating a magic garden at the center. He draws as he was sketching
from life on a spring morning. The house, a wispy outline in the distance
the garden a patchwork of plantings and forms, ‘The cloister
garden’ he writes ‘should reflect the personality
of parliament.’ Though not noted on the drawings those around
remember his brief enthusiasm for matching the color of the flowers to
colors of the political parties, (carefully planted, one would assume,
in proportion to party representation and subject to fluctuations in political
fortune). He was dreaming of a garden formed from a salad of Scottish
landscapes in miniature ‘..a structured pattern coming from land
cultivation’. Though as the plans evolved and the parliament grew
larger, the garden is one of the few themes present at the beginning that
does not evolve. The garden is evidence of the early desire for a compounding
of reality at the center that finally results in the spectacular invention
of the member’s foyer.
Layer six has a deliberate and powerful character. Canongate
has gone - it has served its purpose as a register. Now the complete and
careful drawing of Queensbury House, is flanked on either side with long
figures formed from undulating masses. Starting in the upper left and
thrusting diagonally across the page a swath of green ends in a concentrated
The drawing illustrates not a probable reality but a conceptual
dilemma -by what gesture can the spirit of the natural landscape, flowing
from the park, be driven into the parliament. The force of the stream
of landscape makes the suggested figure round Queensbury House tentative
and stoic. At the end of this muscle of landscape he writes This construction,
referring to the abstract passage of land, answers some of the questions
… The building sits on the land, The people sit on the land
(16) the land and the people and the parliament
are one. Below that he writes:
‘The Scottish Parliament!
The scale of it
The relation between text and image reinforces the meaning;
here is a cry from the heart. On the right of the page he writes from
now on we need to be more abstract. And then explains perhaps to
himself give a more technical definition. The last words on the
page (The previous page is not ashamed of this one), the parenthesis
True to his word the final four pages move out of the descriptive
into a thrilling display of his first attempts to spatialize the concept.
Remember what is being explored is a possible condition of experienced
reality, structure and accommodation are never absent but they are subservient
to this need to reveal, distill significant form from the essence of the
context. His actions are laying the basis for discovering a landscape
unique to this place.
By the seventh layer a man and a woman sit on the passage
of land that flows across the page, but here it lands directly in the
center of the complex; gone are Queensbury house and the tentative structures
that flanked it and in their place the landform flows into an extraordinary
figure, red, awkward, almost pulsating the heart of parliament. On close
inspection it is an assembly chamber and tiny figures crowd the terraces.
He writes the parliament belongs to the land. And as he draws
he finds both confirmation and deep satisfaction in what he has drawn,
It was the idea expressed on these pages that gave
a way to follow
Seating together at different scales
Seating at the land
On the corner of this sheet Miralles feels the need to reveal
something of his creative process he adds:
‘Note; you have a word:
EMBODIMENT [his emphasis]
that we [do] not have
this identification through body gesture
Understood through body.’
As he draws and imagines this place, his being is consumed
by it, he mimes it with gesture and movement; he wills it’s presence
out of his own physicality. It is crucial to meditate on the iconography
of our parliament he writes, and each of these little drawings are
explicit products of his meditation, the drawing carries content that
has no words.
This is a work shaped to survive the centuries, to assume
layers of meaning from the political center of the nation. Its nature
its appropriateness, its significance as architecture is formed on these
[In respect to service to the historical record I offer a
highly detailed reading of drawings that are key to understanding the
composer and more importantly the composition.]
He steps aside from the conceptual narrative on this page
and offers editorial note, on the public character of the parliament.
He notes, alongside a little drawing of fish in a bowl that ‘glass
isolates … it [creates] a kind of fishbowl.’ Presumably
he again has the German Reichstag in mind where Foster assembled the German
parliament beneath a glass dome open to the sky and overlooked by a generous
public processional and gallery. For Miralles, political debate should
not be merely a public spectacle. The main chamber must hold and enhance
a concentration of speech. He was wholly in support of the requirement
that the new parliament support and enhance the transactions of the lawmakers,
but that the public dissemination of their deliberations depend not on
the architecture of the building but on the most ambitious use of electronic
media; from the simple access through television to personal engagement
available to every citizen through the interactivity of the web.
The eighth level is a beautiful and elegiac drawing, all
the elements of the composition are becoming clear to him. It shows how
effortlessly this intersection of ideas can be held in balance. The drawing
implies once again a landscape sweeping across the page but forward movement
is blocked by parliament and comes to a staggering stop, folding and buckling
space beneath a winged structure. The flash of the green landform and
the winged structure in blue are flanked by a passage of water formed
from the echoes of this disturbance. Though abstracted, it is again a
tracing of the site seen from above but only the essential forces are
represented. The discreet numbers mark the salient edges of this fantasy
1, 2, 3 are explained in a tiny note. 1 the slashing passage of green
is the land, 2 the agitated patch of blue is water,
and lastly the complex folded structure is the air. And at the
point where in the future the main chamber will evolve, they almost fuse
Though abstract in effect they are tangible elements in the
formation of architecture. From past experience Miralles knows how to
take such slender gestures of forces in harmony and evolve them into a
concrete material reality. Here is evidence of the limits of language
in the composition of new reality. Forcing the landscape to play out in
his imagination allowed him to conceive of this turbulent conclusion in
a folded translucent plane, as is held in check, beneath a great glass
roof. In his imagination he has placed himself standing high above this
place when he writes: ‘We will talk about a Public Concourse/
MSP Concourse…A gallery covering and crossing where the geography
of Scotland could be shown, A Gallery of Maps’
Nine is a less certain more reflective coda; maybe a response
to the appearance of water on eight. On eight this force field, act of
nature has a completeness when all the elements are present so water has
to finds its place in the landscape and the River Trumble re emerges.
The Trumble was a little river lost to history which once flowed on or
near this place. (Not totally lost, the presence of the Parliament has
discovered it in a culvert beneath site and it manages to find its way
into the Firth of Fourth). Miralles again offers the bird’s eye
view of the site tracing all the surrounding building on the Canongate
but here extending the view out buildings of the Palace. The actual site
is empty save for the wraith of green and the pools carried over from
the previous drawing. On the left he carefully represents the course of
the Trumble from an early map of the city. The site is strangely empty
and silent, as if waiting for the river to reemerge and finds its level.
On the map the river flows out of the Canongate passing by the place of
parliament. There may once have been a lake here and this teases his imagination
to represent the outbuildings to the palace reflected in a sheet of water.
This is not archeology but a conceptual need for make all the elements
of nature surround and define this place. He seeks the essence, ‘The
Old Edinburgh in its hostile environment was indeed symbolic of all lowland
Scotland the surface of which was pitted with meres and lochans [sic]’
The tenth and final layer begins with the note ‘this
page is not a final page – just the overlapping of previous ones.
The parliament should have the same intensity in all parts , different
but not unbalanced.’ And as if to confirm this the upturned
boats and the view from Arthur’s Seat reappear. The Trumble is retraced
but fades into insignificance in the margins of the glorious recollection
of all that has gone before. Here all concepts come together to form a
new reality for parliament, the sweeping landform leads the forces of
nature into the site from the south to be met and held by the resolute
bulk of Queensbury House. The collision produces an explosive effect,
bubbling space into a series of massive volumes (still reminiscent of
leaves and upturned boats) dominated by the great chamber for the new
Scottish Parliament. The drawing vibrates with intensity of the engagement
and in the void between Parliament and the old house and the soaring warped
plane transparent as the air. A parliament formed out of the resolution
between the land and the city between nature and history between the past
He ends with a command:
land and city
at the Parliament Building
the iconography should come out of that….
He ended by giving each of the jury the gift of a little
flip book formed from the reduction of the sketches that let them play
with the image of the building emerging from the slopes of Holyrood Park.
The jury was enthralled.
All these forces were kept in play as the design progressed,
however for many months the space between the Assembly cluster and Queensbury
House never came close to the commanding force of the conceptual flourish
until he found its form in the last months of his life.
Many of the same elements were in formal presentation yet
they seem more diffuse and distant than in the sketches. However some
of the texts add clarity. The parliament he writes should
define the end of the Canongate as more than just a construction along
a street. It must reinforce the existing qualities of the place
. To the idea of the parliament sitting on the land he adds This
is a way of marking the conceptual distance from Holyrood Palace. Whereas
the Palace is a building situated on the landscape …the new Scottish
Parliament would sit within the land. .. Instead of an overwhelming monument
which only relates to dimensions and rhetorical forms. He asked himself
and the jury How is it going to be FUNDAMENTALLY DISTINCTIVE from
other parliaments? The answer is in the drawings.
This was a mature creative mind that was highly aware of
how he composed. From the El Croquis interview in 1995 he said
I'm not interested at all in allusive reality, the connections are made
backwards in time, or towards history, or forwards towards a utopia; or
towards a given paradigm or language… what interests me or is a
sort of incorporation of infinite integration….
On July 7, 1998 the commission to design the Scottish parliament
was awarded to EMTB of Barcelona in association with RMJM of Edinburgh.
EMBT are the initials Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue (his partner
and wife) RMJM is a venerable Scottish based international practice named
after its founders Robert Matthews and Stirrat Johnson-Marshal. Eric Miralles
close associate in RMJM was Michael Duncan, who with his co-director Brian
Stewart have been central to the creative process (17).
All the conceptual and compositional elements that were present
in the winning submission would be under continuous and subtle transformation
between the award of the commission in 1998 and the completion of the
final approved design in June of 2000. They would not remain undiminished
rather they became clearer and more vital as the months went by.
 All the conceptual and compositional elements that
shape the new parliament were present at the conclusion of the competition.
Over the next two years these would evolve and gradually assume the physical
forms that together form the new parliament. The brief expanded with the
ambitions of the Scottish executive yet the conceptual structure held
The only part of the complex completely designed at the meeting
of May 1999 was the MSP Wing, (Members of the Scottish Parliament Wing)
They occupy a disciplined block running at a right angle to the Canongate
on the west side of Queensbury House. Miralles sought to convey the
sense of the building as a series of individuals. The parliament should
not have the appearance of an office building he declared. Each MSP
has a vaulted cell which on every floor enters on one side into a grand
corridor the main communication room – conversations in passing
– comments. And on the other there are individual windows
which become seating balconies. These seating balconies are an original
and powerful architectural invention. Each cell has a projected bay on
the west wall, exactly in the form of a seat, each slightly different,
a seat in which each parliamentarian is alone yet surrounded by the city
and the landscape. Inside the window seat and the flowing forms embossed
in the vault ceiling cause an intriguing disturbance to each MSP office.
Outside the mass of window seats create a dense vertical landscape, a
three dimensional tapestry ordered in the mass yet infinitely varied in
the detail. The idea was encourage in Miralles mind by the way the John
Knox House juts out of alignment giving a subtle game of cross views and
political implications (18). (There is
the presence of another Scottish personage in their making; Miralles was
fond of Sir Henry Raeburn’s painting of the Reverent Robert Walker
Skating on Duddingstone Loch and there is hint of his profile in shaping
the profile of the bays).
These broad corridors were conceived as a space carved out
of a solid and a vault brings light and air from the east into each MSP
cell. The east face of the wing is equally original as the clustering
of window seats in the west: a swashbuckling of modeling with ventilation
sockets cut back to the line of the cell vaults assisting cross ventilation
and a quirky geometric pattern of drainage hoppers and gutters in stainless
steel carrying rainwater, which criss-cross diagonally down the façade.
Yet to be heard but anticipated will be the harmonies produced by the
cascades of water in the heavy rains of Edinburgh. Such invention, far
from being indulgent, is the product of a vision that would use this element
to create a metaphorical representation of unity and difference in the
community of the MSP’s. The MSP suite is one of the four formative
stages that combine to shape the play of the parliament. Miralles wrote
I characterize this building as a series of individuals. This place is
consciously shaped by the body. He engaged in a form of predictive
stage management as he would mentally move with the MSP’s out of
the building onto the courtyard, it is not difficult to imagine
he wrote, pensive thoughts outside the building with thoughts running
through the mind –seeking the help of a reflective walk during a
While the final form of the Chamber remained undecided at
the May 1999 presentation, the space it would sit on, the public foyer
was complete. In all its wayward detail it seems both to support and even
threaten the Assembly. Miralles anticipated that public foyer will
have a very strong impact on the Public’s view of the Parliament.
It is formed beneath long vaults whose surface is incised with a meandering
scatter of huge St Andrews crosses. There are generous curving cuts through
the vaults letting light into the public passage and scarping the underside
of the assembly. Miralles wrote the vaulted space is lit by deep light
wells where many different light conditions occur, east light, evening
light and direct views to the nearby hills. The room, however, feels
subterranean, yet it does possess an ancient archaic feeling.
The entry passes under a slender extensive canopy that is shaped as a
non monument - it is as if the skin of the Assembly floor had been
pulled out to embrace the public. The result is an effect in which the
Chamber rests on the people rather than in the land; a strange and visceral
connection between the people and the politician, a kind of dependency
one upon the other.
After May of 1999 the complex cluster of leaf shaped volumes
housing every from the Assembly and the committees to the administration
and the press remained confused and unresolved as they jostled to find
coherence, both in function and effect. Miralles plunged into months of
adjusting and readjusting the arc of members seating to find the form
that would most effectively support the debate in the Scottish Assembly.
Physically, operationally and in the public imagination the Scottish Parliament
was expected to be radically different from both Westminster and the Capital
in Washington. By plan debate in the Scottish Chamber would have neither
the oppositional structure that so marks British parliamentary behavior
nor the imperial semicircle that forces the US senate to sit at the pleasure
of the vice president. He knew what had to be found:
For the quality of the debate
It is important that not only the
MSP’s could embrace each other, but also
The Room should embrace them
On 13 May 1999 Donald Dewar was named First Minister of Scotland
a week after the election of the first Scottish Parliament.
As design developed, the curve of seating became overextended
and the ends were folded in to form an awkward termination. It was far
from the effect he sought. In a document prepared in May of 1999 Scottish
Parliamentary Explanatory Document, Miralles’ conceptual inspiration
for the form of the Chamber and the Committee Rooms was never more explicit;
a cluster of slender branches run diagonally across the page to the three
leaves, the largest exactly where the Assembly will be (it is the same
image that he used as a sketch for the Jury). His notes on the page state
that he seeks an equilibrium and richness between the rooms and the users.
I do not imagine a parliament dominated by either a cupola or a debating
chamber beneath it. At this time the debating chamber found its appropriate
form (a form much present in Miralles earlier work) – an arch though
in plan shaped from an arc and two tangents; a tense curve which would
bring all members of the assembly in contact one with another. A tense
curve resolved the major concern to the politicians that the ends of the
hall were too far from the middle; that those unfortunate enough to be
so seated would somehow be at a disadvantage – too far from the
center to be noticed. When the new arrangement was laid over the rectangular
formalities of the Parliament’s temporary quarters in the Assembly
Hall of the Church of Scotland, the politicians quickly noticed the obvious
difference in the new Chamber they would never be physically in opposition
to one another. It was also clearly a form able to accommodate whatever
mix of (currently seven) political parties were elected to serve Scotland
(a rainbow coalition as David McCrone has called it). The same search
for individuality marked the shaping of the committee rooms. Each capped
by semi domes which are carved into and burst with light; Miralles was
deliberate Each are individual rooms, not one more of a series.
All was becoming firm, however the penetration of the landscape
into the heart of the complex had yet to find its form. For a brief period
the development drawings began to lose their conceptual force; missing
was that climactic point – suggested in the conceptual sketch –
a rippling field of energy at the center.
From 17 November 1999 – 1 February 2000 the program
expanded which caused much readjusting but no major change in character.
On the contrary it gave rise to a brilliant final flourish in the composition.
This most brilliant amendment to the design was conceived
in February/March of 2000; the creation of a Members Foyer. It came in
response to the sudden need for more space and strong pressure from Historic
Scotland to cause less destruction to the interior of Queensbury House,
to retain more of its historic form. The previous plan for Parliament
had carved open the street level of the old house to create a passage
linking the MSP wing to the Assembly. This being denied the only alternative
was to build a passage of space into the garden. Pure serendipity –
forcing the creation of a structure in the garden gave a context within
which to produce a conceptual climax to the intersection of land and air;
the resolution of the penetration of the park and the Crags into the heart
of the complex. In his first drawing from February/ March 2000, Miralles
sees a dense canopy of leaf forms - precisely drawn – to cover the
space; this would evolve into an undulating sequence of arched metal structures
carrying generous skylights, creating an astonishing space There is one
fragile drawing of this complex, three-dimensional swarm of structures.
They are described in the drawing effortlessly, almost casually; with
the radii and tangents set out with such precision that it would translate
unaltered into the extraordinary structure that has resulted. This is
a wholly original experience whose intentions are as much social as visual.
It is the restless dynamic heart of the political community
and endless changing in the light. It is ambiguous; open to endless interpretation;
infinitely shifting experience both of the stage and the players. It is
the final evolution of the winged figure representing air in the final
drawing to the Jury. It is a restlessness place never predictable or easy
to know. .As the idea crystallized he was concerned with the loss of the
garden and considered having the swath of grass rolling in from the park
to rise up and over it but this was not developed. The final resolution
allows the lawmakers to move from the foyer into the sheltered garden
beneath the cascading face of the MSP wing which flows into the rib of
landform that follow the path of the earliest drawing into Holyrood Park
Early in 2000 Miralles was diagnosed with a tumor in his
brain. All was done to help and on the advice of friends he went to Texas
for treatment. From his hospital bed in Houston, Miralles faxed the teams
in Edinburgh and in Barcelona expressing happiness both with the final
project as it was presented and with all those who had worked with him.
Transcript of the fax from Enric Miralles, Houston, 28 March 2000
John [Gibbons], Mick [Duncan], Brian [Stewart] (The architects first)
A picturesque doctor will operate me on Wednesday but I will send
a note for the debate.
I like them to read if I’m not\
Maybe is not very Scottish!
A project, the making of a project is a learning process.
To learn to be together.
The kindness of each other or to hear from each other …
For that reason the newspaper cartoons are excellent.
“The Spanish man selling ice cream to the beach …”
but this is not the reality.
A very good group of people closed is EMBT RMJM
And I think we have been doing an excellent job,
We have created a piece of Scotland.
The way the building merges the history with the landscape is very
We are in the middle point.
The project is ready
(Could be cheaper, a bit smaller…) but the project
do not be afraid.
Scots never are (or so they said)
I hope to be able to see you at the debate
And open the building together if
The team will help overcome
We are in contact.
I like to say something.
The lobby is a fantastic piece… is the only way. Queensbury
is not an isolated object.
The heart of the complex and give energy…offering a listening
to be like a lamp in to the scotch landscape.
Final Design Approval was given on June 20, 2000, and on July 4, 2000
Enric Miralles Died. He died two weeks later. Work had to proceed, yet
the loss was enormous, designing in detail continued after his death both
Edinburgh and Barcelona committed to preserving every element of the design.
The Parliament exists in the fusion between the topography of the Park
and the structure of the City; embedded in the geological and social history
of the palace. Its form neither a preconceived portrait nor representation,
but drawn out of the physical residue of the place and the multiple performances
of parliament. This Parliament is an assembly of parts, informal, decentralized;
an inhabited landscape metaphorically embodying the culture of Scotland.
The individual and the collective brought together in metaphorical landscape
landform straining to echo the physical and the cultural landscape of
Scotland. This set of conceptual instruction results in a work of architecture
which is - informal, internally directed, introverted on the ground yet
drawing in the sky, ahistorical, unfashionable, unstylish, and wholly
original. The result is a sequence of stages redolent with quiet dramas
and mysteries which will insinuate themselves into the imaginations of
those who come to form the future of the nation.
The musical analogy: a wholly new and untried instrument which will magnify
and harmonize the music of national desire. Its marvelous promise is given
life to me in the Lois MacNeice poem The Autumn Journal:
What is it we want really?
For what end and how
If it is something feasible obtainable
Let us dream it now
And pray for a possible land
Not of sleep walkers, not of angry puppets [?]
But where both heart and brain can understand
The monuments of our fellows
Where life is a choice of instruments and none
Is debarred his natural music…’
and the new parliament itself an instrument formed in the out of the
culture, the city and the land, and a wholly original instrument, never
before played with a capacity for making the national music that demands
On October 11 2000 Donald Dewar died at the Western General Hospital in
Edinburgh, as the result of a brain hemorrhage. In April 2000, he had
been diagnosed with heart problems and, in May, underwent surgery to replace
a leaking heart valve, (he was still recovering when he heard of Miralles
As he stood on the scaffold facing death in 1677, the Covenanter martyr
James Renwick declared ‘There is a great storm coming which shall
try your foundations, Scotland must be rid of Scotland before the deliverance
comes.’ Devolution has rediscovered Renwick and the bitter irony
in his words are seen as a challenge to the all who belief in the promise
1 -Neal Ascherson THE STONE VOICES The
Search for Scotland Hill and Wang a division of Farra, Straus Giroux New
EMBT RMJM documents
3 Enric Miralles in conversation
with Emilio Tunon & Luis Moreno Mansilla
NOTES ON AN INFORMAL CONVERSATION
The last interview before his death in June of 2000
4 The problem with the musical
analogy is that it works perfectly with Beethoven but with very few contemporary
composers John Adams in the US Boulez in France, yet perhaps there are
as few major architects as there are composers. Miralles was 44 when he
died there are no major composers as young
5 This was particularly evident
in the trivial quality of so many of the submissions for the memorial
on the site the WTC. There are exceptions James Tyrell being the most
obvious in the US and what of Ian Hamilton Findlay.
6 The last decade
of the 20th century saw major works in Berlin, London, Los Angels, and
Balboa garner enormous world interest. These then are the best of times
for the unveiling of a significant work of political architecture.
8 I met him when
he considered replacing me as Chairman of the Architectural Association
in London, after my decision to return to the US in 1996
9 a conversation
with Enric Miralles
el croquis ? 1995
In discussion with Alejanadro Zaera
10 Donald Dewar's jury was; Dr
John E Gibbons, Director of Building Scottish Office; Joan O'Connor Architect,
Past President RIAI; Robert Gordon, Head of Construction Group Scottish
Office; Kirsty Wark, Journalist & Broadcaster; Professor Andy McMillan,
Head of Macintosh School of Architecture.
12 He had studied English in Edinburgh
as a young man and was a popular visiting critic at the Macintosh school
in Glasgow years before the competition. He had a deep fondness for the
work of the Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, seeing parallels
in it to the Catalan architect? Gaudi; The Mackintosh School is still
Mackintosh’ greatest work.
13 The 35 people who lived on Hirta,
the largest of the islands, were evacuated in 1930, thus ending settlement
on the island that had been continuous since prehistoric times.
14 They had been traced from a
photograph he had taken at Lindesfarm in Northumberland
15 From notes made by Mick Duncan,
the editor of this work and Miralles closest colleague in the Scottish
side of the partnership.
16 Two difficulties in transcribing
Miralles’ notes, first his handwriting is small and sometimes leaves
out a letter and secondly he not aim for exact English, for example in
the previous quote he wrote ‘parliament sit in the land.’
For legibility where the correct form is obvious it has been used.
17 This celebration of the finished
work and the quality and character of this book are due to the imagination
and dedication Mick Duncan, and is tangible representation of his admiration
for Enric Miralles.
18 Michael Duncan, op cit.
19 Michael Duncan op cit.
20 Historic Scotland is
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