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Seat of power

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The Enric Miralles/RMJM Scottish parliament may be seen as an expression of the politics and poetics of a changing country. But can Scotland rise above the current rancour about costs and delays to understand and embrace this building?

'The world is a place, a space that one cultivates and in order to be up to that worldcultivation, one has to cultivate one's-self.' So wrote Kenneth White, 1 an exiled Scot, former chair of Twentieth Century Poetics at the Sorbonne, an intellectual nomad, scotus vagans, a wandering Scot. White clears a path of understanding for this complex building.

In an essay entitled 'The Re-Mapping of Scotland', 2 White writes: 'Scotland at this moment is in a transitional stage - we can all probably agree on that, for a start. At surface level, it's a question of politics. At a deeper level, it's a question of poetics. I don't neglect the politics, but I'm more concerned with the poetics. If you get politics and poetics coming together, you can begin to think you've got something like a live, lasting culture.' It fell to Enric Miralles to imagine a building where politics and poetry could come together. EMBT/RMJM (Enric Miralles Benedetta Tagliabue with RMJM) has created something which demands of the citizen time and intelligence, intelligence of a different order to the jaded knowing and classifying of the scholar or the caustic sound bite of the posturing commentator. Given the inept politics and cost furore which currently surrounds the building's procurement, it could take some time for this building to be seen. It would always have taken time to understand.

There is no immediate visual fix, no hollow iconic eye-candy to satisfy the insatiable architectural Munro bagger.

3'The parliament should be able to reflect the land it represents. The building should arise from the sloping base of Arthur's Seat and arrive into the city almost surging out of the rock, ' said Miralles.

This is a building that we should know and understand intuitively. It evokes a landscape of the extreme North. It is about the glacier, in the crush and folding of space and form. It is about the birch tree, given architectural form in the delicate timber screens to Scottish parliamentarians' offices. The concrete Canongate wall throws fragments of stones and drawings to its surface like some glacial moraine.

It eschews passing beauty for something more profound and grounded in this territory. It is about a place beyond the restrictive parochial boundaries of Scotland, it is located firmly in a northern territory.

This is not an easy landscape; it is the chaos of the moraine, the anxiety of the gorge, the horror of the void, the silence of Munch's Scream.

Kenneth White, in another essay, entitled 'A Shaman Dancing on the Glacier', a ground sense, and a freshness of the world as those men, those Finn-men, knew when they moved over an earth from which the ice had just recently receded'. White cites Joseph Beuys, the shaman of his essay, who instinctively recognised the significance of this land with his installation Celtic Kinloch Rannoch Scottish Symphony (1971, Edinburgh College of Art), responding to the vacuum of Rannoch Moor.

If contemporary building in Scotland can express such a sense of groundedness, it begins with this building. We had lost the intuitive, the letting go, that change of consciousness that is necessary to rediscover the poetic. Miralles, acting as our shaman 5, recovers a sense of that place.

Many have been critical of the selected site, one preference being for a prominent city-centre location on Calton Hill. It certainly would have been a more obvious, bombastic and monumental choice. The Calton Hill site would have caused Edinburgh alone to claim this building, while the Holyrood site, emerging out of the land, allows the building to have a relationship to a wider geographical context. The vista eastwards down the Royal Mile is not closed by building, it is absorbed by the sea. Edinburgh, in New and Old towns alike, has open vistas out of the city to the land.

The Holyrood location further endorses The Royal Mile as one of Europe's most celebrated streets, a spine of almost mythical promise from castle to palace. The building embeds itself in the fabric of the Old Town, pressing up against tenements, school and palace.

This reticence of the Holyrood site opened up a different prospect for a Parliament seeking new and open beginnings.

Miralles, alone of the finalists, recognised this opportunity. While the rest opted for the power of government as expressed in platonic Neo-Classical forms, petrified, as virtually all recent architects have been, by the blue-rinsed Medusa that is contemporary Edinburgh, Miralles suggested something fresh, yet somehow primeval, with his collage of leaves and sticks.

The connection to the northern masters - to Aalto and Pietilõ - is well rehearsed.

A Catalan homage comes from Coderch, Lape±a & Torres, Viaplana & Pi±¾n, and now Miralles.

The EMBT/RMJM collaboration is a coming together of two parallel strands of Scandinavian architecture. While Catholic Catalonia responded to the organic, sensual lines of Aalto, Presbyterian Scotland absorbed the Romantic Classicism of Asplund and the ascetic lines of Jacobsen.

RMJM championed the clarity and consistency of plan with a clinical execution of detail as the generators of its buildings, epitomised by its seminal Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh of 1967.

The fabled Scottish temperament is given form in this confluence, a romantic hedonism coupled with rigorous, focused determination. The completed building clearly exhibits this union; it has a quality of finish and execution of a different order to the relaxed nature of typical Mediterranean construction. The building is intelligent not only in its symbolism but also in its approach to detail, sustainability and access.

Louis Kahn's influence is less expected than Aalto's, yet this is clear on experiencing the spaces and in the inhabited wall - from Scottish castle, to Kahn, to the Members of the Scottish Parliament's (MSP) study carrels. The vaults of the public entrance recall Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum, but are transformed by the febrile hand of Miralles in their warping and the totemic incisions. The Kahnian palette throughout is strictly edited:

concrete, stainless steel, oak. The detailing is substantial and serious. The spaces have a sensuous, silvery grey character.

Two primary circulation routes are choreographed through the building: one takes MSPs from their offices via a garden foyer to the committee rooms and debating chamber;

the other route conducts the public from the entrance lobby to the public gallery.

To the west, a linear honeycombed wall of vaulted MSP offices completes the grain of the Royal Mile. The individual cells are designed around study and concentration; the celebrated window seats recall St Jerome in His Study, everything close at hand - view, light, air, books. MSPs move from their carrels through a top-lit foyer. Toyo Ito, describing the Barcelona Pavilion, 6 says, 'the sensation created by the space is not the lightness of flowing air but the thickness of molten liquid'. Miralles has created such a space. The garden lobby flows syrup-like between the committee room towers. The roof forms have a languid air like the underbellies of a school of minke whales as they surface and dip below a crystalline surface.

The committee room towers are given form by the tense Miralles line. There is none of the capriciousness of a Gehry curve; the arcs are precise, deliberate. Spaces between towers are dynamic and grave, a product of the materials and the rigour of execution. Internally, each of the main committee rooms has a remarkable quality of form, light and volume, which recalls Aalto's northern town halls.

From the liquid foyer, MSPs move up a ceremonial stair and ramp to emerge into the debating chamber. The public arrive in the chamber after a sequence of astonishing spatial experiences, starting from the compressed entrance vaults below the chamber, via a stair that spirals miraculously up to the public gallery. From here the view is as if from the canopy of some petrified forest.

This room is a tour de force, its sylvan quality complex and magical. Even empty of people, the space has an animation which is uplifting. It is a vital yet intimate place, shared equally by public, press and politicians. Views out to the city, nearby crags and sky extend the space beyond its walls, connecting the congregation back to the land.

Surely even the most hardened critics will find it in themselves to be seduced by the humanity of this assembly.

Scots have long considered that a complete education involves spending time in southern climes, bringing back the lessons of the classics: witness Edinburgh as the 'Athens of the North'. They view ideas from the south as having more consequence than ideas of the north. The irony is that it has taken an architect from the south to awaken a northern imperative.

Will the Catalan shaman exorcise the icy glare of sceptical residents, or like Edinburgh in Festival time, will the spirit of Miralles, like Beuys and White before him, visit like some exotic enlightened summer visitor, stay over, then return to a more agreeable reception in the south? It remains to be seen whether the politics can rise to the quality of poetry the chamber and committee rooms hold, and whether a mean-spirited society can awaken from its self-induced depression and bickering to stake a claim on a European stage. The building itself already has a world presence.

STRUCTURE The variety of buildings comprising the Scottish parliament has resulted in the use of a significant range of design and construction techniques.

They contribute to, and help to express, the architecture, by using visible structure of the highest quality.

Clear examples of such complementary techniques are in the members' offices, where extensive exposed concrete vaulted soffits and matching in situ cast frames are used. This was achieved by using precast floor units stitched to the frames to provide the necessary robustness against potential bomb damage. The same materials were used on site and in the precasting yard to ensure lightness and colour compatibility.

A similar approach can be seen in the ceilings to the public entrance area where there is variable-geometry vaulted, exposed concrete and precast columns. Twisted precast-concrete columns support the concrete ceiling with its incised Saltire crosses and rooflights. The converging geometrical arrangement of the columns and the vaulted ceiling required special formwork of high quality. The result provides the feeling of an undercroft, a unique spatial experience.

The buildings along the north side comprise the listed Queensberry House and the Canongate buildings. A considerable amount of restoration and reconstruction of Queensberry House has transformed the building into a robust structure containing a modern office. Works included grouting and through-bolting the original rough-faced, rubble-filled walls, together with new steel and concrete floor construction, thus conjoining the two. The major characteristic feature on the Canongate is the extensive cantilever at the official entrance to the parliament. Eighteen-metre-long steel Vierendeel frames, prestressed back to the reinforced concrete frame behind, are used here to achieve the shape.

The assembly building towers are generally in reinforced concrete with single floor spans of up to 14m. In order to achieve clear spans over committee rooms, the floors are post-tensioned and pre-stressed. These buildings and the members' offices are located over a considerable basement containing the car park, plant and storerooms. This watertight concrete basement is set within the groundwater table. During construction, site pumping reduced the groundwater level.

The debating chamber is above the public entrance. The structure is composed principally of structural steel frames, integrating the routes of the air supply ductwork. These frames provide the stepped seating for the members and the public galleries. Above the seating areas, three-dimensional tied timber trusses spanning up to 22m support the roof. These trusses in turn support a steel grid providing the basis for the sheet roofing systems, with oak timber lining on the underside. The trusses themselves are formed from oak glulam members, typically 600mm x 300mm, connected by specially fabricated stainless steel nodes and tie bars. The combination of the complex geometry of the roof and the variable nature of the supporting structures required extensive three-dimensional whole-model analysis, using a considerable number of load cases, including loads due to explosion.

The final effect is a room of considerable quality, embodying excellence of design, comfort and a stature befitting the duty and responsibilities of its parliamentary incumbents.

DAVID LEWIS, ARUP ENVIRONMENT As services engineer, RMJM's role was to play a part with the architects in developing energy economy for this building. The initial brief called for the main office spaces in the building to be mechanically ventilated. The narrow floorplate widths of much of the building facilitated the use of a more sustainable, naturally ventilated approach, which was demonstrated to be viable through the use of computer modelling, using both thermal and CFD techniques. In the end, all the main spaces in the building, including both MSP and public foyers (but excluding chamber and committee rooms, which require a fully sealed external fabric for acoustic reasons) are naturally ventilated. The extensive exposed pre-cast and in-situ concrete contributes much to enabling this reduction in air conditioning, through thermal stability, and in some areas through the use of summer night-time cooling. Where mechanical cooling is needed, systems have been chosen that can make use of water at about 11¦C from the aquifer 25m below ground. This water was used by the brewers who previously occupied the site. Today it is also used for flushing WCs and for topping up water features.

The key strategic moves are illustrated by four main areas: the MSP building, the refurbished Queensberry House, the car park and the assembly buildings (public entrance lobby, chamber, committee rooms and offices).

MSPs' rooms are simply ventilated via both a manual and a motorised opening window to the bay window. The latter also facilitates night-time cooling of the exposed concrete vault. In addition, the office door in the glazed partition will normally be open, allowing through ventilation to the adjacent researchers' space (estimated at 4ac/h on calm days), which has its own high-level window for daylight and ventilation located on the corridor.

Vaults are uplit, supplemented by task lighting. In some corridor areas there are 'lightwall' panels - glass, backed by a timber veneer, which is translucent enough to be backlit. Risers are set between pairs of offices, feeding cabling to shallow raised floors. Heating is from trench heaters, with timed and presence-detector 'off' but override 'extra-hour on' buttons to facilitate 24-hour use when needed.

Queensberry House also uses a natural ventilation strategy. Here, the requirement to provide blast-proof secondary glazing behind the historic sash-and-case windows led to a solution of introducing mesh panels in the secondary glazing to maintain the ventilation path.

The car park is another area where the original strategy for full mechanical ventilation has been revised. After computer-modelling of several options, the decision was made to provide ventilation via mechanical air supply from builders' work ducts, driving out fumes through perimeter slots in the boundary wall to Reid's Close and, of course, the car park entrance.

This solution avoids the need for extensive galvanised ventilation ductwork, allowing savings by reducing the floor-to-ceiling height of the car park.

For the assembly buildings, thermal stability is provided by the exposed concrete structure. Typical office floorplates are again shallow enough to be simply cross-ventilated, and where mechanical cooling is required the aquifer water, collected in a 400m 3 tank, is used for the public and MSP foyers (via underfloor heating and cooling pipes), displacement office ventilation and chilled beams in the committee rooms.

The debating chamber has a variable-volume system, to suit varying occupancy. Debates will be televised and TV's optimum set-up would have been a black-box chamber for ease of control. However, expressing a spirit of openness, and the available views in several directions, led to daylighting of the chamber. For TV, each MSP position has its own lighting rod suspended from the ceiling, each with three 150W metal halide (MBI) lamps that have been laser-aligned to avoid shadows on faces.

Building performance remains to be proven but the prognosis is good enough for it to have received BREEAM Excellent ratings for the MSP building, for Queensberry House and for the assembly buildings.


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