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Architects slam latest Scottish Parliament alteration bid

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Architects have hit out at plans to overhaul the lighting scheme inside the main public entrance hall of Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue’s (EMBT) Scottish Parliament at Holyrood

Former RMJM associate John Ramsay, who worked extensively with EMBT on the 2005 Stirling Prize-winning project, said the £550,000 changes were yet another example of ‘throwing money at this building when it [wasn’t] really needed’.

He argued plans to boost lighting levels in the main hall – originally intended to have a ‘subterranean’ feel – were clearly an unintended ‘spin off’ from a controversial new £6.5 million security entrance.

Ramsay added: ‘The new entrance brings people in at a different place from the original scheme, and also drastically reduces daylight in the foyer because of the external corridor that links the bunker to the foyer.

It’s a design fault of the new entrance

‘So it’s a design fault of the new entrance, not the original scheme, and should have been anticipated and dealt with as part of the budget of that project.’

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) has appointed Kevan Shaw Lighting Design to deliver the overhaul which will allow the space to be used for exhibitions and events, potentially bringing in up to £25,000 a year.

Originally visitors entered the building through a darkened space before climbing a flight of stairs to the debating chamber which is flooded with light.

However the entrance sequence was altered following the opening of a new £6.5 million security screening facility – designed by Lee Boyd – last summer.

Peter Wilson, director of the Wood Studio at Edinburgh Napier University, said: ‘I haven’t ever found the lighting levels to be a problem, but what is more of an issue is how any new lighting scheme might be integrated.’

He continued: ‘At present the curved concrete soffits have no lights in them and while it might be argued that floor mounted lighting could be shone upwards to reflect off the surface, this wasn’t ever part of the lighting scheme for understandable architectural reasons.’

The curved concrete soffits have no lights

Wilson suggested hosting conferences in the area would also be problematic. He said: ‘The ceilings were designed deliberately to be low and so any conference organiser would find some difficulty in accommodating screens and projectors in a way that would facilitate delegates actually seeing anything.’

He added: ‘I would expect any decent temporary exhibition in any venue not specifically designed for this purpose to come with its own lighting design and equipment, and I say this as someone who has been involved in the design and organisation of exhibitions, large and small, for over 25 years.’ 

In a statement the Scottish Parliament argued Minralles’ original aspirations for lighting the space were never realised.

The statement said: ‘Using new lighting technology it has now become possible to articulate the space as intended in the architect’s early visualisations.’

The new scheme would be significantly more energy efficient – according to the statement – and improve accessibility for visually impaired people.

Key problems have included pools of light caused by spotlights which have made navigating the area difficult for some visitors.

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: ‘In 10 years the lighting has never been acceptable in the public part of the building.  The SPCB has decided to address the issue properly while it has the opportunity.’ 

He continued: ‘As well as improving the main public access route into the parliament for all visitors, the new lighting will benefit people with visual impairments and it will also make the space more useable for commercial events which will help generate income for the parliament.’

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