The inner east elevation contains a playful geometric pattern of drainage hoppers with diagonal gutters that carry rainwater down to ground level. On its west elevation is a unique, projecting window seat for each MSP office, which allows the occupant to sit "outside" the building in contemplation.
The "grade A listed" Queensberry House has been restored on the outside to James Smith's design of 1697 but has been fitted with modern office interiors.
The MSP foyer is at the heart of the complex, linking all the areas of the building. Its roof consists of a curved roof plane into which are nestled thirteen leaf-shaped roof lights, which allow daylight to flood the space.
The roof structure is the center point of the chamber. Depicting an all-encompassing hand, its 112 nodes are themselves works of art in stainless steel. Each one was individually detailed and fabricated by MSD Design Ltd., an Aberdeen-based company normally associated with the oil industry.
Fundamental in the design of the Scottish Parliament building was the drive to minimize the use of energy in its operations. The site was previously occupied by a brewery, which used boreholes to provide water. This water is now used for cooling.
Eighty percent of the building is naturally ventilated. Mechanical air-handling and comfort-cooling are restricted to those spaces where large groups are assembled for prolonged periods. Thermal mass is provided in the extensive exposed concrete absorbing daytime heat gains and in the free cooling provided from the boreholes. All the oak used in construction was Scottish, thus reducing the energy consumption and costs of importing wood.
Security for the buildings is an important feature, hence the use of various blast-resistant cladding materials including granite, slate, timber, and precast concrete.
However architectural statements have not been neglected in deference to this functional requirement. As well as being blast proof, the concrete Canongate Wall commemorates the presence through history of the Parliament in the old city by a collage of quotations from Scottish literature. The natural association with the land is symbolized by diverse pieces of stone referring to the geological makeup of the landscape.
If ever there was an example of grand yet nonmonumental "architecture for the people," then Scotland's new Parliament building is its epitome.
Don Barker is a freelance writer and photographer in London, who has lived and worked in Europe, Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He is a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek and writes for several periodicals in the United Kingdom.