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The Architecture of Scottish Government By Miles Glendinning et al.

Dundee University Press, 2005. 400pp. £30 Until recently the history of governmental assembly in Scotland was one of conflict and ambiguity. The dual forces of democracy and power were acted out in buildings where the symbols of authoritarianism and state religion were closely integrated. There was little distinction between secular and church government until well after the Reformation, and little genuine democracy.

The close links between church and state meant that government business was usually conducted in religious structures. Where it was not, purpose-built accommodation followed the pattern of churches, with their directional (not in-the-round) emphasis.

Meetings of clans and their rulers were often held in the open air, but the democratic ideal implicit in the geometry of these forums failed to survive the institutionalisation of political power - a point Miralles has recently addressed.

Until the 17th century, when norms of government were institutionalised along English lines, the physical setting of Scotland's Parliament was elusive, transient and poorly documented - the national legislature met in a number of buildings dispersed across the country. It was only after 1600 that government became sufficiently institutionalised to require purpose-built structures.

The Parliament House, constructed in 1632 alongside St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, led to the domiciling of the national assembly in that city.

It was built, under the consolidating rule of Charles I, as an attempt to establish Edinburgh as a Scottish capital.

The main virtue of this book, the first to chronicle Scotland's governmental architecture, is the context it gives to judge the controversial designs for the new Scottish Parliament. With an eye on the past, Miles Glendinning discusses the designs, not just by Miralles but also Viñoly, Meier, Benson, Wilford et al, against the templates of Modernism and national identity. In many ways the architectural types, values and ideals of national legislature are captured as much in the unsuccessful competition entries as in the built project. This discussion of both the institutional and design responses to the new Holyrood building is conducted with a much-needed critical sense of history.

Brian Edwards is a professor at Edinburgh College of Art

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