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Scottish Office chief architect John Gibbons is spoilt for choice. Selecting the designer of his country's parliament building from such talent as Richard Meier and Partners, abk and Enric Miralles is a tall order, and one that has already landed him and his fellow jurors in controversy.

Alhough there is plenty of Scottish influence in the 12 design teams (shortlisted from 70 and soon to be cut to three or four), only one practice, Benson + Forsyth, based in Edinburgh, is in the running in its own right. This has prompted the rias and others to lament the lack of recognition of talent north of the border.

Gibbons, one of six jurors, is unrepentant - which is just as well, as there is no time for introspection. The parliament building must be finished by 2001. This means two years to build, with less than one to complete a design. The jury is rooting out all but the best on talent alone, he insists. Nationality must settle for second place.

Teams are scrutinised on design track records and concepts of democracy. It is a complicated and unfinished brief badly needing a design team, he says. The jury, led by secretary of state Donald Dewar, has also encouraged teamwork, says Gibbons. 'We were keen for teams to enter and not just individuals. Self-selecting teams that choose their partners tend to work more harmoniously.'

But he insists he has no preconceptions about the design, though it must be modern and efficient. Teams have been vetted to prove they are able to deliver in such a short time scale. Part of the process will involve looking at styles of parliament at home and abroad.

'This includes it and electronic voting and whether the debating chamber should be round and engender consensus politics, like in Scandinavia. Or we may decide it should be confrontational like Westminster.' Whatever the choice, it can only be made with a winner on board, so they must move fast.

After training in architecture at Birmingham, Gibbons did a doctorate in philosophy at Edinburgh in 1970. Teaching, research and practice followed. The last 14 years have seen him at the Scottish Office advising on all publicly funded design: galleries, hospitals, schools. Like its southern counterpart, the Scottish Office has struggled to get pfi off the ground, however. And although this latest, £50 million project is not crying out for private money, it looks like his most demanding. If all goes well, however, Gibbons will have done his bit.

Jez Abbott

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