The Scottish Parliament Building, on the site of a former brewery and designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles (1955–2000), was opened by the Queen in October 2004. The ground plan of the complex is said to represent a 'flower of democracy rooted in Scottish soil' (best seen looking down from Salisbury Crags). Free, one-hour tours (advance bookings recommended) include visits to the Debating Chamber, a committee room, the Garden Lobby and the office of a member of parliament (MSP).
Miralles believed that a building could be a work of art. However, this weird concrete confection at the foot of Salisbury Crags initially left the good people of Edinburgh scratching their heads in confusion. What does it all mean? The strange forms of the exterior are each symbolic in some way, from the oddly shaped windows on the western wall (inspired by the silhouette of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, one of Scotland's most famous paintings) to the asymmetrical panels on the main facade (representing a curtain being drawn aside – a symbol of open government).
The Main Hall, inside the public entrance, has a low, triple-arched ceiling of polished concrete, like a cave, or cellar, or castle vault. It is a dimly lit space, the starting point for a metaphorical journey from this relative darkness up to the Debating Chamber (sitting directly above the Main Hall), which is, in contrast, a palace of light – the light of democracy. This magnificent chamber is the centrepiece of the parliament, designed not to glorify but to humble the politicians who sit within it. The windows face Calton Hill, allowing parliamentarians to look up to its monuments (reminders of the Scottish Enlightenment), while the massive, pointed oak beams of the roof are suspended by steel threads above the MSPs' heads like so many Damoclean swords.
The public areas of the building – the Main Hall, where there is an exhibition, shop and cafe, and the public gallery in the Debating Chamber – are open to visitors (free tickets are needed for the public gallery – see the website for details). If you want to see the parliament in session, check the website to see when it will be sitting – business days are normally Tuesday to Thursday year-round.