EU visitor centre speaks the languages of democracy

The European Parliament in Brussels now boasts a state-of-the-art visitors centre and education facility thanks to Electrosonic. Chris Fitzsimmons went along to take a look.

Trying to make oneself heard over the sound of 30 French school children in the foyer of the Parliamentarium, the European Parliament’s new visitors centre in Brussels, it is immediately obvious that the project has been a success. But how has what was originally going to be a subterranean car park, come to play host to one of the most sophisticated and successfully executed visitor attractions in Europe?

One of the people best positioned to answer that question is the man who has overseen the idea since its inception almost a decade ago, Alexander Kleinig. Alexander is head of unit for the European Parliament Directorate General for Communication, a body which is responsible for external communications between the parliament and its citizens.

“As part of the planning the 2005 enlargement of the EU, we had to create additional office space for the parliament, and this additional office space came with the obligation from the city of Brussels to keep part of the new building open to the public.

“Initially it was envisaged that this would be some kind of multifunctional building including shops and apartments, but following the attacks on the WTC in 2001 security concerns made it impossible for the parliament to allow such an uncontrolled flow of people on its campus.

“The whole idea was changed and what remained was 6000 m2 of space that needed to be kept open to the public. This consisted of the space that had been foreseen as the car park for the office building. What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t by any means a purpose designed exhibition space, which is one of the reasons we are so proud of the result.

“Also the other important context that needs to be appreciated was that around this time, the draft European constitution had just been voted down by the French and Dutch. There was a general feeling that more had to be done in terms of communicating with the people. Despite the widely used title of Capital D’Europe, there was nothing at all in Brussels which you could visit to learn about this vital European political institution.

“So, that was our starting point, and in 2005 we engaged Atelier Brückner, the Austrian design agency, to help us bring out ideas to life.”

To read more about the installation, click the link to see it in our digital edition.