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Wednesday, April 7, 1999 Published at 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK

Building for the future

The Holyrood site: A blend of old and new

Scotland's new Parliament building at Holyrood will provide MSPs with a high-tech home.

After it opens in 2001, members will use electronic voting. Systems are being developed to allow MSPs to vote from their seats using swipe cards and pin numbers.

Devolution Minister Henry McLeish said: "Electronic voting means members do not have to queue in congested corridors and also allows for the possibility of recording an abstention.

[ image: Several sites were in contention]
Several sites were in contention
"This is another significant step towards creating a forward-thinking modern Parliament for the new Millennium."

Technology is just one aspect of a new Parliament building which, it is estimated, will cost about 50m, and is being designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles.

Miralles set up his practice in Barcelona in 1984 and has won many architectural prizes and competitions throughout Europe including the Madrid City prize in 1993, the National Prize of Spanish Architecture in 1995 and the Golden Lion at the Biennial of Venice in 1996.

Other recent designs include the Olympic Archery Pavilions in Barcelona and the new town hall in Utrecht, Holland.

International entries

He was chosen from a process which began in January 1998 with the launch of a designer competition in the international architectural press. This attracted 70 entries from practices around the world and from this, a short-list of 12 was drawn up.

[ image: Enric Miralles shows Donald Dewar his design]
Enric Miralles shows Donald Dewar his design
Five were then asked to submit initial designs, resulting in Miralles, who had teamed up with architects RMJM (Scotland) Ltd (Edinburgh), being picked as the winner.

Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar said: "What Enric and his wife Benedetta have produced is not a single monolithic building that over-emphasises the importance of the Parliament but a group of buildings that grows out of the site and complements both the city and landscape of the park.

"The new Parliament building will become a tangible symbol of this new democratic adventure."

Temporary home

The Church of Scotland's General Assembly building on the Mound in Edinburgh has been chosen as a temporary home for the Parliament, which will sit for the first time on 1 July.

The decision on a permanent home was always going to be a thorny one. Among the locations considered was the old Edinburgh High School, where the Parliament would have sat had devolution gone ahead in 1979.

This time round, it lost out on the grounds that it was too small and it was felt that it was tarnished with the stigma of failure.

[ image: The debating chamber is at the centre of the plans]
The debating chamber is at the centre of the plans
Sites at the Haymarket and in Leith were looked at but were also rejected. So too was the option of converting St Andrew's House, which is home to the Scottish Office, at a cost of about 65m.

The four-acre Holyrood site is on Edinburgh's Royal Mile next to the Palace of Holyrood House and Holyrood Park. It is bounded by Horse Wynd, Holyrood Road and Reid's Close.

The area is steeped in history. The Royal Mile has been a royal route since 1128, when David I founded the Abbey of Holyrood. The abbey has been a royal residence at least from the reign of Robert the Bruce, who held a Parliament there in 1326, and the Scottish Parliament met in Parliament House in the Royal Mile (now part of the High Courts) from 1640 to 1707.

The ground has been occupied by the brewers Scottish and Newcastle plc and work there is expected to begin in the middle of the year.

Pedestrian plans

Traffic management was one of the most important factors in the site being chosen. There are plans to pedestrianise Canongate along with entire length of the Parliament site.

Enric Miralles' concept will see the integration of modern designs with some of the historic parts of the old Canongate. Traditionalists may dislike the mix but it found support when models of the design went on public display last October.

Sebastian Tombs, from the Royal Incorporation of Architects, said: "There's been rather too much preservation in respect of the approach and I hope this building and the complex will start a new line of thinking amongst the public."

[ image: The site nestles close to Arthur's Seat]
The site nestles close to Arthur's Seat
Clare Henry, arts critic of The Herald newspaper, anticipated problems with people accepting the buildings. "I think you've got to overcome great scepticism and there will be the traditional lobby who really won't like them at all."

When Miralles' plans were first unveiled, among the reactions they received was that the buildings looked like a collection of upturned fishing boats. Since then, changes have been made - for example, the chamber is now moon-shaped to allow more direct debate.

But what of the "boats"? According to Miralles, they stay.

In an explanation reminiscent of Eric Cantona's philosophical quote about seagulls following the trawler, the architect explained his view of the buildings' shapes.

"The boats are still there but the boats are much more like a filling and will not be like a crude thing or something like an enforced icon. I mean, it's just, sometimes you take something out of your pocket; something to start thinking and be provocative and then go ahead. No?".

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