£550k bid to light up Scottish Parliament foyer

The Parliament foyer area is considered to be too dark. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The Parliament foyer area is considered to be too dark. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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THe foyer of the Scottish Parliament is set for a £550,000 lighting upgrade – even though it was deliberately designed to have a “subterranean” feel.

Late Holyrood architect Enric Miralles wanted visitors to enter a slightly darkened space and experience increasing light as they made their way up to the debating chamber.

But a decade after the £414 million building was officially opened, Holyrood chiefs have decided the entrance hall is just too dark and have appointed a lighting expert to install a new system.

The parliament says the revamp will allow the area to be used for as a reception venue for commercial events, which could bring in up to £25,000 a year to help offset the cost of the lighting.

A report to the the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), said the system of spotlights created pools of brightness and made it difficult for visitors to navigate their way around the space and to view exhibitions.

In 2008, new lights were ­fitted as part of a £115,000 refurbishment programme throughout the building.

But officials said attempts to improve the quality of the lighting had not properly addressed the issue.

The report said one option, installing suspended lights, would achieve a consistent level of lighting, but would obscure the distinctive barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Instead, the SPCB agreed to design and install a new lighting system and appointed Edinburgh-based Kevan Shaw Lighting Design.

The parliament already uses the members’ dining room for commercial events, but says it can only accommodate 120 people. The entrance hall could take up to 450 for a reception or 300 for a sit-down meal.But when it has been used for receptions – and big exhibitions – special hired lighting has had to be brought in.

Brian Stewart, who headed the Edinburgh side of the architectural partnership with Barcelona-based Miralles, explained the concept for the entrance hall in a lecture soon after the building was opened in 2004.

He said: “The idea of the public entrance was we wanted it to be a little subterranean. You enter up the public stair – the idea was it’s slightly dark, then move up the stair, it gets lighter and lighter and you get to the chamber and the natural light there is significant.”

Lothian Tory MSP Cameron Buchanan said such a design was more suited to the Mediterranean than Scotland.

And he was sceptical about the need for more lighting. He said: “I strongly object to spending this kind of money on things that don’t really matter.”

A parliament spokesman said: “The SPCB is angered that money had to be found from this year’s budget to fix an issue that dates back to the original design and construction of the building.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com