For the construction team, life has been tough over the past couple of years, as politicians and the media attacked the project incessantly. "It's been difficult to shake off this image that the project is out of control," says John Gibbons, the Scottish executive's chief architect and client adviser to the Scottish parliament.
"The constant knocking turned people off," agrees Alan Mack, operations director at project manager Bovis Lend Lease, adding that many in the construction industry refused to have anything to do with the job. "They thought they could see another Portcullis House coming," he says. "We've struggled sometimes to get tenders, especially for glazing and cladding packages. It's been difficult to get level of specialist input we'd have liked."
But the team now senses the project has reached a turning point in its fortunes. In July, previously sceptical MSPs voted overwhelmingly to remove the budgetary cap of £195m and spend whatever necessary to ensure Scotland gets a parliament building worthy of its national aspirations.
This has given the team a mandate to complete the project in accordance with the wishes of its late architect, Enric Miralles.
In Barcelona, Miralles' firm EMBT Arquitectes, now under the stewardship of his widow and business partner Benedetta Tagliabue , is finalising designs for the
last element of the building: the interiors of the debating chamber and committee rooms. In Edinburgh, a building of extraordinary quality is rising from the ground. The four-storey block housing MSPs' offices is half finished, and the building is on schedule to open in September 2003. In the next few weeks, the celebrated boat-shaped concrete forms of Miralles' design will be cast, finally giving Scots the chance to see where their money is going.
Until now, faced with unrelenting bad publicity, the project team has refused to speak in public. But Building has been given exclusive access to both the construction site in Edinburgh and the offices of EMBT Arquitectes in Barcelona to tell the real story behind this remarkable project.
The project's budget has famously spiralled from £40m to a rumoured £230m. But that £40m price tag was not realistic. Mack says this was a "mythical figure", based on a consultant's guess about the cost of a 11,500 m2 office block on an unknown site.
By 1998, when the city-centre Holyrood site had been chosen, the estimate had risen to £50m. But again, this was a fantasy figure based on the most basic building imaginable: a report at the time says the parliament would be "a square, free-standing, four-storey construction".
Donald Dewar, the architect of Scottish devolution and the driving force behind the parliament project until his death last year, initially wanted a building that was modest and cheap.
"We sat down with Donald and asked him, 'what do we need?'" recalls Gibbons. "He replied: 'I want a first-class, functional office building – but nothing too elaborate, boys! This is presbyterian Scotland!'"
Dewar then went on to choose the wilfully imaginative Catalan Enric Miralles as his architect. Dewar and Miralles hit it off immediately, with Miralles captivating the dour first minister with his poetic references to the Scottish vernacular and ancient Highland traditions. From that moment, it was clear that this was to be no bog-standard office building, and estimates rose in line with ever-increasing expectations.
All went smoothly for the first year or so, as Miralles developed his initial concept into a workable design. The project met its first hurdle when the client changed. In the early days, the team reported to the Scottish executive, but after the first elections in May 1999, the Scottish parliament – the authority that would eventually occupy the building – came into being.
The parliament appointed a new body – the Scottish parliament Corporate Body, a cross-party group chaired by Sir David Steel – to act as client. The SPCB then proceeded to tear up the brief.
The body quickly realised the specification was inadequate, and that Miralles' designs would have to be drastically modified. "When the client changed, people began to think about how to actually run a parliament, and the brief grew and grew," says Mack.
The number of staff requiring accommodation rose from 400 to over 1000; extra facilities were demanded, including state-of-the-art broadcast suites for television companies, complete with £3m worth of equipment. In all, the changes meant the size of the scheme trebled to 33,000 m2. The extra accommodation had to be squeezed on to a tight 4.5-acre site.
At the SPCB's insistence, the design of the debating chamber – the most significant element in the building – was changed. Miralles had proposed a European-style, non-confrontational chamber with seats arranged in a gentle arc, but this was rejected in favour of a horseshoe arrangement. "It became evident that the MSPs enjoyed a much more confrontational style of debate," says Mack. "They wanted a version of Westminster – which is ironic." The new design required a larger chamber and much of the rest of the scheme had to be redesigned to accommodate it.
Some of the new demands verged on the comical: MSPs suddenly decided they wanted their HQ to be highly sustainable, demanding that underground car-parking provision be halved from 135 spaces to 65. "They all said they were all going to come in by bike or on foot," says Mack.
But other changes were more serious: after concerns about a terrorist attack, the structure had to be re-engineered to withstand bombing, adding millions to the bill. "Blast became a fundamental design issue," says John Ramsay, project architect at RMJM. "Anything within 25 m of a point of access had to have special enhanced measures." Concrete had to be substantially reinforced – the team jokes that facades are concrete-reinforced steel – and glazed elevations were redesigned with smaller panes. The biggest headache the team faced concerned a dilapidated and almost forgotten 17th-century house at the back of the site. The grade A-listed Queensberry House rapidly became a cause célèbre among Scottish conservationists, who rejected Miralles' plans to adapt the building to link the debating chamber and the MSPs offices, instead demanding a full historical restoration. This caused substantial cost and delay. Five months were lost while historians bickered. A meeting of 11 experts almost ended in blows as they argued over whether the roof should be clad in pantiles, slate or oak shingles (the pantilists won). "I've never seen such fury as was coming out of these characters," says Mack.
Miralles had to rethink his plans yet again, slotting a new foyer into the site. Meanwhile, structural analysis confirmed that the house, which Mack describes as a the work of "17th-century jerry builders", required £3m emergency work to stop it falling down. The discovery of asbestos added more cost.
Despite the changes to the brief, those involved are adamant that the building is good value. The team is still working to bring the project in for £195m, of which construction costs make up £108m. "The reality is we're building this project for circa £4000 a square metre, which is about where we were at the outset," says Mack.
Likewise, they reject criticism levelled at the choice of procurement route. Gibbons says: "A lot of criticism has been levelled at us for using construction management, but nobody has asked what kind of situation we would have been in if we'd got a conventional contract and then suddenly decided we wanted a building three times bigger. We'd have been taken to the cleaners."
Naturally, the team is keen to point out that for a building of this importance – and one designed to last 300 years – cost is not the most important thing. "History tells us that regardless of cost and time, the building will stand or fall on its quality," says Mack.
There are signs that the Scots are coming round to this argument. Shortly after MSPs voted to remove the budget cap, they approved a plan to fit out the building, where possible, with Scottish timber and stone, rather than cheaper imported materials.
The team are not expecting everything to be plain sailing, however. Plans to reduce MSPs from 129 to 101 have got the critics buzzing again. "Now they're saying there's too much space," says Mack. "We could have taken a floor off." Perhaps he should keep such thoughts to himself – he might be asked to do it.
Where the money is going
Bovis Lend Lease has said the £195m projected cost of the parliament will break down as follows:
- Construction £108m
Site organisation £12m
Broadcasting facilities and fit-out £8.5m
Site acquisition £5m
Plus VAT and fees. Landscaping (£7.5m) and inflation (£14m) not included.
Four years of woe: how the budget spiralled
Labour publishes the devolution white paper, authorising Scots to build their own parliament for first time in more than 300 years. Cost is estimated at between £10m and £40m, depending on site. Later that month, Scottish secretary Donald Dewar announces the search for a site. “We will have the building completed in time for the millennium,” he says, adding: “We will be looking at ways in which the cost can be kept to a minimum.” January 1998
Dewar selects the Holyrood site in Edinburgh and organises an international competition to find an architect, which independent consultants estimate will cost £50m. Projected completion is in second half of 2001. July 1998
The competition is won by Enric Miralles-led joint venture between EMBT Arquitectes of Barcelona and Scottish firm RMJM. December 1998
Project manager Bill Armstrong resigns, saying the project is “behind programme and over budget, and I wasn’t allowed to make inroads to put it right.” The Scottish Office denies this claim. January 1999
Bovis Lend Lease appointed project manager under construction management contract. May 1999
Scottish elections see MSPs elected to Scottish parliament. Dewar, now Scottish first minister, hands control of the parliament project to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body, a cross-party group chaired by Sir David Steel. At the first meeting, SPCB is told that costs have risen to £109m. September 1999
A Notice of Proposed Development (NOPD) is submitted instead of planning application – project has Crown immunity and does not need to seek planning permission. March 2000
A report for SPCB by independent assessor John Spencely finds that cost has reached £230m, but says the project can be completed for £190m. The report rejects the option of abandoning the project as too costly. April 2000
MSPs narrowly vote to continue with project, and fix the budget at £195m. During the debate, news comes through that Miralles is ill. It later transpires he has undergone brain surgery in the United States to remove a tumour. May 2000
Substantial design changes are completed in wake of the SPCB demands; a second NOPD is submitted. July 2000
Enric Miralles dies. Fortunately, his design is almost complete. August 2000
Miralles’ widow, Benedetta Tagliabue, assumes responsibility for the design team. September 2000
A report by Scotland’s auditor-general Robert Black says that the project may cost more than £195m and will miss its December 2002 completion date. October 2000
Donald Dewar (right) dies of a brain haemorrhage, the result of a fall on a pavement. June 2001
Project director Alan Ezzi resigns after failing to peg costs and prevent further design changes. Two days later, MSPs vote by 75 to 33 to remove the £195m cost cap. The latest estimates put the total cost at £230m. Completion is now set for September 2003.
Architect EMBT/RMJM construction manager Bovis Lend Lease quantity surveyor Davis Langdon & Everest consulting engineer Arup planning supervisor Turner & Townsend services engineer EMJM Service Piling Amec concrete O'Rourke specialist glazing Schneider UK Queensberry House: demolition and reconstruction Ballast external render Balmoral Stone MSP building: roofing Coverite cladding Flour City ceilings, partitions, carpentry and joinery Ultimate Finishing precast concrete Mallin assembly building brickwork Lesterose glazing Mero