Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh

Enric Miralles - Benedetta Tagliabeu - EMBT
Date Built
Inaugurated 2004
Holyrood Park, Edinburgh
A government White Paper proposing the building of a Parliament Building in the Scottish Capital was published in 1997.  It would take 7 years for that proposal to be turned into reality and along the way the project was dogged by controversy.  Even after the building opened in 2004, it continued to attract criticism and flaws in the construction added to its woes.  An article in the Scotsman in February of 2010 said that it, " ... has been plagued by leaky roofs, pigeon problems and a falling beam. The cost of maintaining the complex building is five times as much as expected and hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on new security measures."  However, it must be noted that a year after its inauguration the building was awarded the Stirling Prize as "The Best Building of 2005" and the RIAS Andrew Doolan Award for Architecture for the "Best Building in Scotland 2005".

A competition was launched in 1998 and five architectural practices were invited to submit designs.  The winning practice was EMBT-RMJM with Enric Miralles, the Catalonian architect taking the lead.  Miralles died at the age of 45 just 2 years after winning the competition and a full 4 years before the building was completed by the practice he had set up with his wife Benedetta Tagliabue.

The Scottish Parliament website says that the site selected for the building was, " ... located 1 km to the east of Edinburgh city centre, within the UNESCO World Heritage site ‘Old and New Towns of Edinburgh’. Its extent is some 4 acres ... in an extremely prominent position within the historic Old Town, adjacent to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and with an outlook on to Salisbury Crags."
The EMBT website says of the design that it, " ... should be like the land, built out of the land and carved into the land. ... This natural amphitheatre that slopes, is what the land is offering us to build on."

In the year before the building was completed, the Guardian published an article by Jonathan Glancey which acknowledged the growing concerns about the building project.  Glancey pointed out that it had been, " ... derided by the press for being costly and late. True, its cost has risen from a nominal £10m at the time it was first seriously mooted in 1997, to £40m when its design was approved, to £100m when its scale was tripled, to £300m more recently, and to £345m today."  However, he felt that it was, " ... a masterpiece in the making. Not just a great building, but one that addresses Edinburgh specifically and offers something out of the ordinary. ... When completed, some time next year, it will be the finest new building in Scotland for many years. And, it needs to be completed to be seen. This is a rich, complex and crafted design, as much landscape as architecture, a building that will connect the city centre emotionally and physically to the hills beyond, expressing Edinburgh's embodiment of Scotland's political and cultural will."

In an article, that he wrote for the "Building" magazine, entitled "Miralles' magnificent mess", Martin Spring said that, " Enric Miralles, the late Catalan architect, has given them one of the most exciting buildings of the past decade. An architectural masterpiece, even.  And also, it has to be said, an architectural mess.  ...  The architectural jumble comes in the corridors, staircases, lobbies and external courtyards that twist themselves through the narrow spaces left between the tight-knit collection of irregular building forms. These circulation spaces have ended up being contorted, baffling and disorientating, particularly for visitors."

The parliament includes 10 buildings that vary in height between one and six storeys.  Seven of the buildings are curvilinear in shape while the rest are rectilinear.


The Canongate Building sits at the bottom of Canongate and features a span of about 18 metres without any supporting columns.

The Scottish Parliament website says of the building that, " Under the façade of the Canongate building is the Canongate Wall. The overall design of the Canongate Wall was by Sora Smithson and incorporates a range of Scottish stones, carved by Gillian Forbes and Martin Reilly, set in large pre-cast concrete panels."

At the lower end of the wall is a townscape based around a sketch by Enric Miralles of Edinburgh's Old Town as viewed from his room in the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street in Edinburgh.

The Media Tower sits beside the debating chamber at the corner of Horse Wynd and Canongate.  It features distinctive panels of granite and oak.  As its name implies, it contains the offices of the Parliamentary broadcasting service, a press conference centre and offices for the journalists.

The Debating Chamber is a lofty chamber with 131 desks for the members of parliament arranged in a horseshoe shaped configuration.  Above is a gallery containing 225 public seats,  18 for invited guests, and 34 for the media.  The roof structure involves a series of steel and oak laminated beams.  The Parliament web site says that, "The roof beams are held in place by 112 unique stainless steel nodes or connecting joints made in Aberdeen, and are one of the Chamber’s most prominent design features."  However, it was one of these roof beams that failed causing the chamber to be closed while the problem was fixed.

The desks are made of oak and sycamore and were designed by the architect.

The MSP Building provides accommodation for the members of parliament and their staffs.  It features amazing bay windows with oak latices to provide privacy.

The Main Hall is the place where the public enter the building and as such it houses the Information Centre.   "The Main Hall is made up of three tapered concrete vaults. The vaults were cast on site and feature Enric Miralles' abstract designs of the Saltire cross (the Scottish flag). A distinctive lightwell, of differing designs, in each of the three vaults allows natural light to penetrate the space"

Queensbury House is a historic buildings on the site that dates from 1667 and in addition to having been a residence it was, at various times, a hospital, a house of refuge and premises for the Scottish and Newcastle Brewery.  Today it is home to the offices of the Presiding Officer, two Deputy Presiding Officers, the Parliament's Chief Executive and other staff.

The Parliament website reflects on Miralles' treatment of the landscape around the buildings.  They point out that he, " ... always spoke about the Parliament 'sitting in the land', and a landscape scheme has been laid out around the building as part of the overall project. To realise this conceptual idea, many of the structures have been turfed and “concrete branches”, covered in grass, flow from the site, connecting the leaf-shaped buildings with the adjacent parkland.  The landscaping softens the concrete canopies with the introduction of wild flower meadows, roof top gardens, ponds, plants, flowers, trees and wood."

The Tower Buildings (seen above and below) are shaped like upturned boats, apparently inspired by a visit Miralles made to Lindesfarne where he saw upturned boats being used as shoreline sheds.  The towers feature the same granite and oak panels that you see on other buildings on the site.  The Parliament website describes the function of the Towers as follows:  " Towers 1 and 2 house the Scottish Parliament committee rooms and provide office space for committee clerks. Towers 3 and 4 provide office accommodation for Scottish Ministers, their staff and Scottish Parliament staff. The towers are often referred to as the Committee Towers."

Other views of the Scottish Parliament.

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