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Scots slam Miralles' concept snub

Furious architects in Scotland have accused the Scottish Executive of 'callousness' and of 'rewriting history' after the sudden death of Scottish Parliament architect Enric Miralles on Monday from a brain tumour.

Peter Wilson, director of Manifesto, the Foundation for Architecture at Edinburgh's Napier University, this week launched a scathing attack on the executive for declaring that Miralles had all along been only commissioned as 'concept' architect and for maintaining that it was 'fortunate' that the late architect's work was now over. A spokesman for the executive told the AJ that the project had been Miralles' 'grand vision' and that many of his ideas had been 'fleshed out in detail' up to Stage D by his practice's partners on the project, RMJM. Scottish Executive chief architect John Gibbons said Miralles' 'major contribution as conceptual architect' had been completed.

But Wilson said: 'To say 'we only employed him for the concept' is a rewriting of history. But the real worry now is Scotland. A crisis is looming for the profession in Scotland and for its architecture policy if it becomes accepted that you appoint someone for a concept design and someone else to build it. We have to open the profession's eyes to what they're sleepwalking into.'

Architect Neil Baxter agreed: 'I think history was rewritten long ago, ' he said, referring to the original competition notice for the job. 'I do find it odd that all of a sudden Miralles is being reinvented as a conceptual architect. Wrong! He was appointed as the architect and this is a latter-day reinvention of the facts, but we've seen several of these in the evolution of the Scottish Parliament.'

Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland secretary Sebastian Tombs said the RIAS had already taken issue with the executive when it said work was beyond the architectural stage and had moved to an engineering or a 'technical matter.' But he thought most of the flak had been aimed at the politicians rather than architects.

The Holyrood scheme has been plagued with controversy from the outset, not least about the site which was chosen over Calton Hill, and the escalation of costs. After Miralles was appointed two years ago the then Scottish secretary, Donald Dewar, pledged that the building - with the Catalan's initial 'upturned boats' idea - would stay within its £50 million construction budget. The Scottish Executive said this week that this later rose to £109 million with VAT , fitting out and contingencies added into the equation. But costs escalated before a £195 million ceiling was imposed at the beginning of April. It will be built before 2003. Observers have also criticised the project in terms of RMJM's appointment and the extent to which the practice has become involved. Members of the Scottish Parliament have privately expressed concern about RMJM senior partner Brian Stewar t's links with Scottish Executive chief architect John Gibbons, who was on the selection panel which chose the winning design. Both men and their families lived in separate wings of historic Crichton House outside Edinburgh in the 1980s.

The plans for the Scottish Parliament - which have a Crown permission - went on show in Edinburgh's planning department two weeks ago, but Wilson was critical of how they had departed from Miralles' vision. 'They are a long, long way from the original design, ' he said.

'The flare and sparkle has long since gone and Miralles has had no input since March. It's a synthetic Miralles building.' RMJM would not comment.

Neither has the Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC) for Scotland been happy, it is understood. The AJ has been told the RFAC has written to the Scottish Executive asking for categoric assurance that the project architect stood by the current designs, but to no avail.

Now, on Barcelona-based Miralles' death at the age of 45, his wife and par tner, Benadetta Tagliabue, will still be involved along with Stewar t and fellow RMJM man Mick Duncan, according to the Scottish Executive, although who takes design responsibility is unclear.

Miralles underwent treatment in Houston in the US after the Scottish Parliament's presiding officer Sir David Steel surprised Parliament with news of his illness in April. No announcement was made on any progress since.

Miralles' oeuvre includes the 1991 Olympic Archery Range in Barcelona, a Meditation Pavilion in Unazuki, Japan, and a social centre in Madrid, and he was being buried in another of his creations, the Park Cemetery in Igualada just outside Barcelona on Tuesday as the AJ went to press. Baxter called him 'very gentle, very unassuming, thoughtful, very urbane and extremely witty.'

Sebastian Tombs, whose RIAS gave Miralles an honorary fellowship at Glasgow's convention last year, said it was 'a very sad day'. And Sir David Steel said his legacy to Scotland was a 'fantastic design. There is no doubt that this project can and will be completed, ' he added.

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