Sunday, February 14, 2010

Scottish Parliament – no icon, no Ikea

During my farewell trip to Estonia I made a stop in the UK and visited the various parliament buildings in Great Britain. One of the interesting and frankly quite strange ones was the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.

It is quite difficult for me to decide whether I liked the building complex that is well over-packed with symbolism and Scottish cultural references, which are an achievement in their own right as the architect, who died before he could explain what he meant by the building, was not Scottish. It feels as if someone has bulk ordered some modern symbolism and applied it all to the building without discrimination.

My ambiguity – apart from my aversion to symbols that would be enough to fill a Dan Brown trilogy – probably stems from the fact that I was not expecting a new, modern building for a Parliament that is centuries old (although not in existence for 300 years). The building itself is quite functional from the inside (with bare cement walls in places and a very big and roomy debating chamber) and very strange from the outside. Only, if one would look down on the building from the nearby mountain would he discover that the building is supposed to symbolize the petals of a flower; however, he would probably have a hard time realizing this as the grass on the roof makes it difficult to make out the shape.

Edwin Morgan puts it quite elegantly and accurately in his poem:
Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together
like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues
outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A
growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box?
Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but
curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and
heavens syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to
the cemetery.
But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite
and grey granite, seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete
blond and smooth as silk – the mix is almost alive – it
breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!
Debating chamber. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

More pictures at the Parliament website.

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