Parliaments in the Land : the Panorama, the Picturesque, the Panopticon and the People – Modern Parliaments in Edinburgh

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This paper looks at two, related sites in central Edinburgh, both containing modern parliament buildings and both on an urban edge in juxtaposition with the remarkable landscape of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano and royal park in the middle of the city.
The first of these is the recent (2004) new parliament building designed by Miralles/Tagliabue and RMJM set in the historic Canongate, alongside the royal palace of Holyrood and the spectacular landscape associated with it. Miralles’ approach to this historically and politically loaded site was to turn to the landscape itself; his famous dictum ‘the parliament sits in the land’ was the starting point for a design that attempted both to respond to nature and to site but also to take the building away from the immediate urban context of Edinburgh and connect to a notion of a Scottish land (landscape and nation) that made it more broadly relevant. However, historically, the seventeenth century core of what is now the parliament building, Queensberry House, adopted a rather different relationship to the landscape; influenced by the French urban hotel and the English landscape garden on the other, it sought to withdraw from the city street, on the north, and build a direct and exclusive relationship with the landscape park, to the south.
English landscape theory also formed the starting point for the urban development of Calton Hill, the second site, on which the early 19th century Royal High School was developed as a parliament building in the 1970s, in an abortive attempt to establish a new parliament. Historically, this site has had a powerful engagement both with landscape and with aspects of the visual. It was the site where Robert Barker envisaged and invented the Panorama; it was the locus of the unlikely collaboration of the architect Robert Adam and the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, which resulted in the first panopticon prison in Britain, which turned its gaze over the same picturesque landscape addressed by both the Royal High School and Queensberry House. Finally, it was a site and a landscape that became thoroughly imbued with ideas of cultural and political identity and, partly for that very reason, ultimately rejected as the site of the new parliament in 1997.
Translated title of the contributionParliaments in the Land : the Panorama, the Picturesque, the Panopticon and the People – Modern Parliaments in Edinburgh
Original languageFrench
Title of host publicationLa nature citadine
Subtitle of host publicationEn France et au Royaume-Uni. Concevoir, vivre, représenter
EditorsPierre Carboni, Marie Mianowski, Sylvie Nail
Place of PublicationRennes
PublisherPresses Universitaires de Rennes
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-2-7535-4285-3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Nature, Landscape, Parliament, Scotland,


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