Discovering Parliament through virtual reality   

Construction of the new Education Centre for Parliament has proved controversial for some Thorney Island members. This was partly because it encroached on rare green space in Victoria Tower Gardens and partly because it was difficult to believe that a new building costing £7 million was going to be "temporary" for just 10 years as claimed.

At the end of October we visited it and were very impressed with the facilities provided to enlighten school children of primary and secondary age about the history of our parliamentary democracy. A series of rooms mimicing the look of the House of Commons and Lords utilise augmented reality techniques to explain over a thousand years of history at rapid speed to 100,000 of today's techno savvy kids every year.


It works very well. By manipulating iPads children can conjure up a virtual Winston Churchill on their shared screens to explain what parliament is all about including why there are always more MPs than seats. At one stage an animated Charles 1 speaks about his experiences with Parliament before losing his head.

One intriguing feature was a huge photo on either side of each room of the seats in the Commons and the Lords which looked so deceptively three dimensional that you felt you could sit down in them. To complement the use of new technology, there was a 3D printer in the corridor which was painstakingly printing out a plastic model of Big Ben as we were shown around to the bemusement of some members.

We were honoured to have the architect of the building and the parliamentary archivist as well as the head of education to answer our questions which, among other things, demonstrated to us that the building was constructed  in a modular way with no deep foundations so it really could be dismantled and moved to another site if Parliament has second thoughts ten years hence.

The outside of the building in Victoria Tower Gardens still looks a bit denuded - but that is because the plants have yet to grow to cover the outside. A most enjoyable visit and thanks once again to Pippa Parsons for organising it.