The Scottish Parliament

September 11th, 2010



Well I have arrived for my studies in Edinburgh and have moved into my flat along the Royal Mile. Oddly enough, when I had visited Edinburgh two years ago, I walked into my courtyard and thought how great it would be to live there. Of all the small alleyways and courtyards, I walked into the one that unknowingly became mine. I’m going to chalk this one up as fate, since it gives me some reassurance that it was the right decision to come here.

Today, I walked across the street to the Scottish Parliament. This is going to reveal my lacking knowledge of international politics, but it astounded me to find that Scotland didn’t have its own parliament until 1998. Well, in actuality, they did have their own parliament in the 13th c. but when the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England merged in 1707, they lost their individual right to govern. Much of this political struggle was documented in the recent film, Elizabeth, which I highly recommend, though it doesn’t paint a nice portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, possibly rightfully so. That aside, Scottish national pride is evident everywhere, as my English roommate pointed out tonight. It’s not just an ambulance, it’s a Scottish Ambulance; it’s not Loyd’s Royal Bank, but Loy’d Royal Bank of Scotland. It seems Scot or Scottish is fit into the name of every brand, label, or enterprise. The ebullient pride in their parliament was expressed in the location and the astronomical price, $925 million.

With such strong national pride, I find it a bit odd that a Catalan architect, Enric Miralles, was chosen for the design. However, I think it was a wise decision. As an architectural preservation student, I can be quite critical of modern architecture in historic districts, but for as imposing and abstract as the structure is, it fits within and around both the additive nature of the historic buildings and the bucolic wild of Holyrood Park. Miralles also incorporated Scottish ideals symbolically into his design. Drawing from the nearby dramatic landscape of Arther’s Seat and Holyrood Park, which was created by a volcano and carved by glaciers, Miralles mimicked this natural vivacity in flowing yet conflicted elements throughout the complex. Wild grass grows on the arced roofs the meld inconspicuously into the park and the lobby is lit with natural light through abstract leaf-shaped skylights. The interior is organic like walking into the lungs of a whale, but other portions are sharp and complicated like a cubist painting. One is afforded multiple views through each window, for instance, from on window, you may look upon smoothly curved concrete interrupted by an angular glass wall though which you see politicians busy with the day’s work. Past that, you see historic structures, the Queen’s palace, and the steep green hills of Holyrood Park. Inspiration was also drawn from the floral paintings of Charles Renne Macintosh and from the upturned boats found alsong Scotland's coast. Along Cannongait wall, 26 quotations having relevance to Scotland or parliament have been carved into wall panels of various Scottish stone. In another odd twist of fate, I began writing this post yesterday on the anniversary of the English defeat by the Scots at Cambuskenneth in 1297 under the leadership of William Wallace.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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