By Mike MacKenzie
I went with an open mind, sun on my back and heather in my ears to find and view the much criticised award winning parliament after the construction dust and the clamour had settled. A country boy, I lost myself in fine Edinburgh streets, dripping with history, but no cute little wrought iron signs to point the way. There were closes where Scott and Stevenson had walked. There was a door whose lock was picked by Brodie. There was a sentimental symbol to a wee terrier. I walked as a builder does with an eye for a well built chimney, a neat flashing, a nice bit of joinery. I saw a lot that pleased me. I went as a man who lives in a small two hundred year old cottage to see the biggest and newest and proudest house in the land.
I had defended this parliament building on the grounds that Â£400m wasnâ€™t really all that much for a building as ambitious as this. I felt that somehow our national identity and confidence were tied up in this building. I wanted to be impressed. I had avoided the photos and the film because I wanted to see it in the flesh without first having formed any opinion at all.
When I did find it I thought there must be a mistake. Was this it? I walked around it looking for the entrance. I was going in to take the tour but in the end I had to ask a policeman where the door was. I paused before going in. What was that bamboo stuck on the walls? What was it for?
The tour guide had very strong pink tinged spectacles. She pierced me with a purple beam when I had the effrontery to point out the defects in the concrete and the joinery. She was at pains to point out the architectural symbolism; the concrete vaulted ceiling, the reworked saltire motif, the crowstepped windows! It seemed self conscious; a desperate attempt to embellish something quite drab. It was a confusing collection of interlinking spaces and futile striving for iconography. It wasÂ chaotic, a cacophony competing for the attention of my senses. The debating chamber was closed because the roof had collapsed. I like some modern architecture. It fills me with hope. I like some old architecture. It reassures me. I donâ€™t like this. It reminds me of a heap of straw thrown on a desk.
I like the famous foyer desk. I like the desk for Â£8k not Â£88k. I like Gillian Forbeâ€™s stone wall with bedrock piercing it and stone from every part of Scotland. I touched the piece of Easdale slate that I had helped choose. I touched the only part of the building that touched me. I like the idea of this stone wall and I like the execution. I donâ€™t like poetry etched on it. Stone can speak for itself.
I walked around the building. I tried to get some distance from it and frame an elevation. I hoped I could find something that worked; something to admire or be impressed with. Rarely have I seen a building so poorly sited. Perhaps the elevations do import something meaningful but you cannot see them. You cannot get a sense of the building as a whole. The model is not so bad but it presents the god-like viewpoint of someone at 10,000 feet. Is this ego? Is this a monument to a monumental ego?
They tell me the building grows on you. They tell me the occupants love it. If so it is a building for those who wander those ill defined corridors of power. It is not a building for those who will never get to know it so well. It is not a building for the Scottish people.