He included a lyrical mix of Scottish themes, even if there's not a stitch of tartan to be found. Instead, he had the cross of St. Andrew, a national emblem, inscribed in the concrete vaulted ceilings of the main entrance and abstracted in door panels. The words of Scottish writers are etched on an exterior wall that is studded with rocks from the Hebrides and beyond.
The parliament's main debating chamber is an intimate space, with members' desks spread out in a semicircle only six rows deep. The ceiling is held aloft by exposed oak beams and steel joints. Silhouettes resembling those of malt whiskey bottles—Scotland's chief export—adorn the walls behind the speaker and in an upper spectators' gallery, making this very likely the world's only legislature where liquor is so overtly enshrined. Large plate-glass windows afford expansive views of the green, extinct volcano outside. At one end of the complex stands a five-story block with members' offices. Each of these has a vaulted ceiling and a window seat where the 129 parliamentarians can contemplate matters of state. The standard of craftsmanship for these offices, and their Miralles-designed furnishings, is extraordinary.
Perhaps to drum up popular support for the vexed project, Scottish actor Sean Connery appears in the film at the information center to laud the architect's artistry. But comments in the visitors' book indicate that other Scots are likely to haggle over its merits for some time to come. "Embarrassing!" writes M. Buchan of Oban, calling the structure a "concrete jungle." "What a waste!" writes another. By contrast, a middle-aged visitor named Ailie McAndrew thinks the vast expenditure was worthwhile. "People from abroad think of Scotland as heather and kilts and bagpipes," she says. "This building will give us a better image worldwide."
If nothing else, Miralles has succeeded in creating a direct architectural riposte to the Palace of Westminster in London—the august, neo-Gothic pile that is the epitome of parliamentary architecture in the popular imagination. While controversy over the cost of the Edinburgh parliament is likely to fade, the design itself will long provide fodder—and a place—for the Scots as they debate their national identity and relationship with the rest of Britain.
MICHAEL Z. WISE is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure.