LOOK; I sympathise. I recall the
leaden dread experienced when new neighbours come. It is bad enough when
they are next door, but worse when above or beneath and the late-night
drum practice and the small hours’ DIY begin and the dawn washing-machine
rumbles into first spin cycle.
When they build on an adjoining
site, some dwelling they consider the ultimate in architectural chic and
domestic functionality but which you consider has the grace of a Siegfried
Line pill-box and a supermarket loading shed, then aesthetic values are
likely to clash like armoured knights in a tilting tournament.
That is why
I, albeit a republican, empathise with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh
who, according to press reports, consider that with the locating of the
Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, bang has gone the neighbourhood.
The Queen is said to have described the building as unsightly, over-scaled
in relation to the area and out of character with Edinburgh’s the Old
To crown it all, the Royals are said to dislike the
building being almost within earshot of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. They
could thus be exposed to the tone-lowering sight of MSPs going about their
business in the area, muttering over expense claims, salary rises and
discussing other matters of weight, including future overseas freebies
such as a study of banking in Ghana or a third world urban renewal
conference in the Maldives. A large tree is said to have been ordered by
the palace to block the view of the new building, although a line of giant
Leylandii trees to create a cordon sanitaire would, I believe, be more
The royal attitude to the building remains
unconfirmed by Buckingham Palace, the reports relying on leaks from guests
at a Holyroodhouse dinner party and a quote from a "Parliament insider"
referring to palace concerns about the building.
outsider but close scrutiniser of the construction of this hole-in-corner
colossus, from first dig to the latest architectural extravagances, I
await, with deepening disillusion, the emergence of what I hope will be a
shimmering pagoda of political persuasion, administrative efficiency and
architectural elegance that will gladden the eye, uplift the spirit and
symbolise a renascent, openly-governed Scotland.
aesthetic bruising the Royals are alleged to have been enduring is
compounded by the palace being near Dynamic Earth, the exhibition and
conference centre, which, in my essentially-biased view, resembles a great
white whale, beached and harpooned, clashes with the urban aspect of
Holyrood Road and the Holyrood Park landscape and does not excite so much
Go to the Calton Hill, on which the bulk of
Edinburgh opinion, I am convinced, still believes the new Parliament
should have been situated, and see the famed skyline. From there, Dynamic
Earth is viewed in more pleasing perspective as a small, white grub and
the Parliament building seen, possibly at its best, as an amorphous blob.
may, nevertheless, be artistic spin-offs from this sorry saga. It is a
pulsating tale of cupidity, ineptitude and sloth, of how a construction
company mysteriously won a major Holyrood contract despite its tender
being initially rejected as too expensive, the curious affair of a
banana-curved architectural plan for the debating chamber going
pear-shaped, how Donald Dewar, the former Scottish Secretary and "father
of the nation", apparently succumbed to the persuasive, aesthetic charm of
Enric Miralles, financially-challenged Spaniard in the works, whose extra
pay demands as chief architect, held up work, and revelation of the dark
side of Mr Dewar - a man who may have deliberately told a cryptic joke
involving the words, "Broccoli Spears". Add to that, resignations,
cost-control exposures, cover-ups, door-slammings, dramatic comings - and
you’d better believe it - scandalous goings, rows, rifts, toil, sweat, gin
and maybe tears and, above all, like a python uncoiling, the project’s
ever-increasing cost, now £400 million.
Since this is the stuff of
"tell-all" book, novel, film plot or theatre drama, another design change
should be contemplated - a parliamentary theatre, where the story, filmed
or staged, of how not to construct a Parliament building, could run and
The Queen is scheduled to open the building in October. If the artistic
enclave could be completed in time, the newcomers could invite the Royal
couple to the first show. It would be an act of gracious goodness.