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Acanthus hears Stampslam Scottish Parliament


Gavin Stamp launched a blistering attack on the Scottish Parliament project at last weekend's annual Acanthus conference by insisting, in the presence of rias secretary Sebastian Tombs, that the brief was deeply flawed. It made depressing listening for the good-humoured Bob Allies (Allies and Morrison has now reached the shortlist stage), and provided yet another serious blow for a competition system that delivers buildings rarely and disappointment with grim regularity.

Proffering the competition as an example of how not to commission a building for a revived democracy, Stamp argued that it was premature, the wrong site had been selected, and the briefing process was autocratic. Insisting that it was fundamentally wrong 'to design a parliament building before that parliament has been created', he quoted Churchill's famous adage: 'We shape the buildings and then they shape us', and referred to the exemplary wisdom of the Finns, Australians, and Hungarians, who each created their parliament buildings only after the formation of their respective governments. 'How can we know what the Scots need and want?' asked the Englishman before summing up the whole process as 'cock-eyed, mad and sinister'.

The ensuing weekend sessions offered a rich mix of talks and site visits: a sophisticated lesson by Bob Allies was followed by Peter Wilson's intriguing account of Benson and Forsyth's nearly completed £60 million Museum of Scotland. Amusing and witty Richard Murphy then showed a series of his domestic and public projects to illustrate his dynamic approach to architecture.

Stewart Brown (Simpson and Brown) and Douglas Forrest were among Acanthus members who gave fascinating accounts of their own respective firms' work, while Iain Stewart reported progress on it installations that will transform Forrest's office into an entirely paper-free zone!

Sunday's sessions included contributions from the firms of Peter Holden, Robert Hutson, Derek Latham, Lawrence and Wrightson and finally Webb Seeger Moorhouse, and there were well-attended workshops on green issues, historic buildings, Internet, it and the competition system.

George Ferguson opened the Acanthus conference by declaring that its message should 'reverberate across the architectural landscape'. The splendid location of Edinburgh, and the events currently unfolding in that city, provided a worthy setting for the realisation of that ambition.

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