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Braveheart jingoismmisses the point

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Malcolm Fraser's letter (aj 2.7.98) on his despair over the Scottish Parliament, although eloquently argued, nevertheless misses the point. He argues for the elitists among us with a good measure of patriotism thrown in, and it would be considered highly inappropriate for an engineer who is also not a true Scot (by birth that is) to respond. But we engineers have been known to be at times controversial.

The debate over whether the Scottish Parliament should and could only be designed by a Scottish architect will, I am sure, continue. This is not the first time this subject has been raised, as there are those who would passionately argue that any building in Scotland can only be properly designed by an architect who is based in Scotland. I am sorry, but allow me to remove the blue paint from my face and tell you this is utter Braveheart jingoism. Architecture is about creative work, good work, and knows no boundaries. It is about exciting buildings which are sensitive to their environments but at the same time bold and ground-breaking in their approaches.

While the elitists were bickering about sour grapes and whether Vinoly was dull or Meier was giving us an old scheme, the public considered its choices. On the day the five schemes were announced, the local newspaper - the Evening News - conducted a telephone poll and its readers chose Michael Wilford's design as their favourite. The irony was that not even a single vote was received for Miralles' scheme. And, on the same night, Reporting Scotland on bbc1 devoted only two minutes to the report of the announcement, while poor Sebastian Tombs' summary of the five schemes was cut short to two, as we were going live to some godforsaken village in France where Chick Young was reporting on some French schoolkids appraising the technical expertise of Messrs Craig Brown & co. This is what the missed opportunity has been. Undeniably the most important building in Scotland this century received fewer column inches of publicity than those devoted to Ally McCoist's newborn twins. If this had been in France, we would have had pages and pages on architecture and the art of motorcycle maintenance and who was the real Vinoly's maternal grandmother. The French never threw their arms up in the air and protested about why an Italian and an Englishman should design Beaubourg; they simply got excited about it.

An Edinburgh man was asked in the street by a news reporter what he thought of Miralles' scheme; he shook his head and said it's far too modern, the parliament building should be more like Holyrood Palace. You try to tell him about the Old Town's fish spine. Maybe we should have, and then we would have real passionate debates about architecture rather than about the rights of our ancestors.


Kirkman & Bradford, Edinburgh

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