The Scottish design community has given an overall thumbs-up to the choice of Enric Miralles for the country's new £50 million parliament building, but against a background of continuing disquiet about the site chosen, the lack of a wholly Scottish design team, and the length of time the Spaniard will have to bring his ideas to fruition.
Having joined forces with rmjm Scotland, the architect of the Scottish Office in Leith, Miralles was chosen as a 'unanimous winner' by a jury headed by Scottish secretary Donald Dewar this week. He has to build his 'upturned boats' scheme in time for the second half of 2001 - just three years away. Miralles will take an office in the city, 'postpone' other work and lecture in Scottish schools during the construction period, and it is hoped he will also talk at a series of public forums this autumn being planned by the rias in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Architect Richard Murphy said he was 'generally supportive' of the choice, but concerned that Miralles seemed 'not terribly interested in interior spaces', which needed to be 'memorable' in a building in such a sensitive location. He said it was 'criminal' that a practice like Benson + Forsyth had not appeared on the shortlist, and compared that practice's long building programme on the Museum of Scotland with the relatively short time Miralles has in which to work. 'We're getting it from all sides in Scotland,' he said, 'Everyone is coming to build buildings here and we're not building anywhere else.'
Charles McKean, professor of Scottish architectural history at Dundee University, said he was happy Miralles' concept had been chosen, as it presented the 'least formalist' approach and one that seemed adaptable to changing conditions. The 'upturned boats' idea, however, was 'not very subtle' and he hoped it would not stay as the design evolved.
The rias, which wanted to run a design competition for the building to give smaller practices a chance, was 'delighted' at the 'bold, exciting and positive' decision, but confident that any of the five on the shortlist could have delivered. Its director of public affairs, John Pelan, said rmjm had 'a very strong role to play' in trying to ensure the £50 million- plus costs - an advance on Dewar's previous figure of £40 million - were kept to.
Deyan Sudjic of Glasgow 1999 said it was 'a very brave decision' to go with Miralles, adding that it would have been inconceivable for London's parliament to have chosen a foreign architect for its new mps' building. He said Miralles had been 'shrewd' to make a 'non-specific' proposal.
Around 5000 of 35,000 visitors to an exhibition on the schemes had chosen the Miralles and Vinoly designs as their favourites.
Not everyone was happy at the choice, however. Architectural commentator Neil Baxter said, 'Making a bold architectural statement is all right in Sydney Harbour, but one of the most historically important areas of a European capital might not be the place for such overt design . . . It's a shame that a nation which believes it can govern itself (as much as Mr Blair will allow) didn't have the confidence to design its own parliament'.
Edinburgh's Evening News, whose telephone vote on the proposals received most votes in favour of the Wilford scheme, but none for Miralles', headlined its news coverage 'Dewar's Spanish Armada', and hoped that Miralles' boats 'did not turn out as Labour's Titanic'. The Daily Record was more upbeat, with its piece on the 'Parly Plans' headlined 'My design is one hull of an idea.'
See pages 12-13