Monday, July 9, 2012

It's a tree, it's a harbor, no, it's parliament

Window designs to lawmakers' offices look like whale fins or Scottie dogs or hammers ... but might actually represent curtains being opened to shine in the light.

What do they represent? You decide. 

Chairs in the public galleries resemble profiles of people or perhaps thought bubbles or even question marks.

The people/thoughts/question marks overlook the desks of lawmakers on the  Parliament floor. 
The skylights in the main lobby look like leaves from the outside but they appear to be more like boats when you look up from underneath. Or maybe they are actually eyeballs keeping watch?

So many of the details and design elements of the Scottish Parliament evoke basic elements of the nation's culture as well as open and transparent government -- often simultaneously.

As someone who studies government and politics for a living, I enjoy seeing how different centers of power operate. But in the Scottish Parliament, the legislative body is trumped by its skin.

The Scots formed the rough equivalent of their own state government as part of the Scotland Act of 1998. This reconstitution, starting with parliament, also gave them the rare chance to put a modern twist to stuffy old government buildings. In a public design contest, they chose the plans of Spanish architect  Enric Miralles Moya whose blueprints were rich with symbolism of open government, Scottish heritage, and subtleties that allows for wide interpretations.

The model of the building below shows how the buildings in the foreground look like ships bumping into each other in the harbor. At the top of the photo, you can see the concrete structures that look like a tree trunk growing from the ground. That's to represent the Scots' ties to the land. And the people are represented in the office building (lower right only partly in the picture), which looks like a tenement house.

Not your average capitol building. 
The building relies on natural light and has a ton of windows further underscoring the whole transparency theme. And while we didn't get to see the legislators' offices, our guide explained that each of them have their own "think pods," which are odd-shaped sitting areas with a window. Kind of like cubbyholes for adults.

Another key feature is the art. One exhibit showed sentences written by 100 notable Scottish women about a woman they admired and it was cast in their own handwriting by the artist.

A mix of style, tone and subjects of some of the sentences in the piece. 
So the Scots have a cool house of government but that doesn't mean they've escaped the embarrassing scandals that comes with politics. For instance, one of the Scottish Members of Parliament got kicked out of his party after not disclosing to the Scottish Nationalist Party on his candidate application that he faced accusations of domestic abuse from his three previous wives. He refused to resign his seat and now serves as an independent.

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