Tag Archives: salisbury crags

Scottish Parliament – a STUNNING design!

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Forgive the “STUNNING” shout, it was simply to get your attention (it was either that or a hateful string of multiple exclamation marks!!!)

l haven’t yet got over the visit I made to the Scottish Parliament building last week. I mean the inside, not the outside (we have all seen the outside, if only in photos). The outside is amazing enough, especially when viewed from on high, from the nearby Salisbury Crags. But the inside! The debating chamber! Words (almost) fail me!

By Debating Chamber I don’t mean the bums-on-seats bit in the photo above, the place where all the arguing is done (though that bit is impressive enough with its modern electronics), I mean the roof. Because when I went into the chamber I was looking up, not down.

Perhaps I should explain. I am a writer. I am a geologist. I am also a Chartered Engineer (not a structural engineer, my maths was never good enough for me to be one of those). So perhaps, because I would not know where to begin to design and construct some of the amazing things such as the new Queensferry Crossing, the London Wheel or The Eden Project’s glasshouses  (though I could do their foundations), I marvel at the abilities of those that can.

So… look up, not down! (Something we should all do? Look at the sky, not down at our feet?)

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Click on the pictures to get bigger versions – but they still won’t give you the impressions I had from seeing the real thing. Someone (Enric Miralles? And of course his architect wife Bernadetta) designed these impressive structures. If you have any real knowledge of maths and physics then you will understand how awesome the calcs must be for a roof design such as this.

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I am embarrassed to admit that despite living 20 miles away from the building (and having lived in Edinburgh for four years before that), I have never been inside the parliament. During its construction the Scottish Government (Labour at the time) got a lot of stick for cost overruns, they were awesome (not the government, the overruns). I know that the cost overrun would not have surprised those involved in construction. The MD of a large national construction company once said to me “None of us can bid realistic prices. If we did, it would scare people so much that nothing would ever be built”. Is that interesting, or what?

If I have held your attention so far then you might be interested to know that the Scottish Parliament building cost £0.4 billion (£414,000,000). To put that in perspective, the Edinburgh trams cost over twice as much, almost £1 billion (£976,000,000).

Ho hum, said Pooh…


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Birth of Britain

I have just watched a Channel 4 Documentary, ‘Birth of Britain’, presented by Tony Robinson of ‘Time Team’ and ‘Blackadder’ fame. To me he makes a passable and often entertaining presenter of archaeological programmes because he surrounds himself with professionals who put him right when he strays from good science. But archaeology is a far cry from geology, as this programme shows. He was aided at the start by a couple of geologists, a quiet one from Edinburgh who stood with him on Salisbury Crags (while he referred to the whole rock mass as Arthur’s Seat) and a very loud one indeed from Cardiff who walked him up a ‘mountain’ in Wales (it wasn’t Snowdon, so which mountain was this?) and shouted geology at him. Robinson was just about passable when he was narrating, presumably from a script, but when extemporising on hillsides he was often at a loss to find the appropriate terminology to describe geological processes. As a result we had the occasional baffling remark such as ‘…imagine that (volcano) richocheting across the Welsh countryside…’.

You have to be very, very good to explain something you don’t really understand. Ideally you shouldn’t even attempt it. ‘Birth’ has the odd random professional helper (including two Roman Centurion re-enactors on Hadrian’s Wall… why are they always Centurions?) but none of them helped to hold the programme – or the geology – together. Birth of Britain is the dumbing-down of science at its worse. You would think, after watching this, that the whole of Britain consists of volcanic rock (some of the graphics are good, though).

Perhaps ‘Birth of Britain’ will get better. For me, the bit I have seen already is dead in the water, and as a programme that attempts to explain the geology of Britain it should sink without trace. Presumably Robinson wouldn’t (I hope) dream of attempting to present a programme on astronomy, physics or chemistry, so why choose geology? It is a complex subject that requires a geologically qualified presenter. If you want to see it done properly, watch ‘Men of Rock’, presented by Iain Stewart. This is how it should be done.

‘Men of Rock’ clips (and some of the programmes – for the next few days at least) are here.

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Edinburgh Trams

Or not…

The tram project looks horribly dead to me, especially the tram on show in Princes Street which stands silent and unlit, unheated and unattended. If a tram could die, this is what it would look like.

Over the years I have been involved with some large construction projects, two or three of which would dwarf the Edinburgh Tram Project. What always puzzles me is that it seems to come as a surprise to everyone involved (except the contractor, presumably) that major projects often end up costing several times the initial estimate – ten times in the case of the Scottish Parliament building*. The MD of a UK national construction company once told me that all contractors bid well under what they believe the project will cost because ‘if the true cost was admitted beforehand, large engineering jobs would never get off the ground’. He said that all companies did that and bidding was a case of the least costly (technically sound but still unrealistically low priced) bid getting the work. He also told me that one construction company in particular (still around and NOT one of those involved with the tram project), employed more people in their claims department than in their engineering department, their job being to explore for loopholes in the contract so they could actually pull a contract round into profitability.

Cynical? Me? I’m only repeating what I was told by a leading contractor, far more experienced than myself. Since then, the whole method of bidding for contracts has changed of course, so that these kinds of problems can be avoided. And if you believe that…

*which I personally believe to be stunningly beautiful, especially when seen from the nearby Salisbury Crags (Holyrood House – the Queen’s residence – is on the right in this picture)

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