Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton
Corker Marshall opens tomorrow

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News: here are the first photographs of Denton Corker Marshall's visitor centre at Stonehenge - a prehistoric stone circle in England - which finally opens to the public tomorrow (+ slideshow).

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

After years of negotiations and a string of failed proposalsDenton Corker Marshall's Stonehenge Visitor Centre is now complete on a site 1.5 miles west of the stone circle, within the World Heritage Site but out of site of the ancient monument.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

The building comprises three enclosures, all finished with different materials, which are sheltered beneath a undulating steel canopy and surrounded by a forest of over 200 angular steel columns.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

The largest block is clad with sweet chestnut wood and houses the museum's exhibition gallery. Another features glass walls and houses an education centre, cafe and shop, while a smaller zinc-clad structure is sandwiched between and functions as a ticket office.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

The underside of the steel canopy is clad with zinc panels and features an elaborate pattern of square-shaped perforations. It oversails all three blocks, creating sheltered seating areas around the perimeters.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

"The design of the centre is based on the idea that it is a prelude to the stones, and its architectural form and character should in no way diminish their visual impact, sense of timeless strength and powerful sculptural composition," said Denton Corker Marshall's Barrie Marshall.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

"Where the stones are exposed, massive and purposefully positioned, the centre is sheltered, lightweight and informal. And where the stones seem embedded into the earth, the centre rests on its surface," he added.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

Visitors can walk from the centre to the monument via a winding pathway, or can choose to take a ten-minute shuttle ride.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

Photography is by Peter Cook.

Here's the full press release from Denton Corker Marshall:


New Stonehenge Visitor Centre Opens

Denton Corker Marshall’s new Stonehenge Visitor Centre opens its doors on 18th December, inviting more than one million visitors every year to experience the transformed ancient site.

Located 1.5 miles to the west of the stone circle at Airman’s Corner, just within the World Heritage Site but out of sight of the monument, the new visitor centre is designed with a light touch on the landscape - a low key building sensitive to its environment.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

Sited within the rolling landforms of Salisbury Plain, the design consists of a subtle group of simple enclosures resting on a limestone platform, all sheltered by a fine, perforated, undulating canopy.

Barrie Marshall, director at Denton Corker Marshall, said: "The design of the centre is based on the idea that it is a prelude to the stones, and its architectural form and character should in no way diminish their visual impact, sense of timeless strength and powerful sculptural composition. Where the stones are exposed, massive and purposefully positioned, the centre is sheltered, lightweight and informal. And where the stones seem embedded into the earth, the centre rests on its surface."

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

Three pods, finished in different materials, provide the principal accommodation. The largest, clad in sweet chestnut timber, houses the museum displays and service facilities. The second largest, clad in glass, houses the educational base, a stylish café and retail facilities. Located between these is the third, by far the smallest and clad in zinc, which provides ticketing and guide facilities.

Oversailing them all, and resting on 211 irregularly placed sloping columns, is a steel canopy clad on the underside with zinc metal panels and shaped with a complex geometry reflecting the local landforms.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

Local, recyclable and renewable materials have been used wherever possible. The material palette includes locally grown sweet chestnut timber cladding and Salisbury limestone.

Stephen Quinlan, partner at Denton Corker Marshall, said: "Various strategies have been adopted in the design to ensure that the centre is environmentally sensitive and uses natural resources in a responsible way. These range from the natural sun shading qualities of the canopy which promotes natural ventilation and reduces the need for cooling in the pods, through to more technical solutions such as heat pumps and high efficiency insulation."

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

The new building allows Stonehenge to have dedicated facilities on site for education and interpretation for the first time, with museum-quality exhibits that tell the story of the 5,000 year- old monument.

From the new centre, visitors can either walk to the monument or take a ten-minute shuttle ride. During the trip the henge emerges slowly over the horizon to the East.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: "For too long, people's appreciation of Stonehenge is this mysterious, impressive but anonymous monument. The Neolithic period itself is pretty much a murky expanse of time, shrouded by many outdated notions. We want people to come here and take away a fresh view."

Stonehenge Visitor Centre by Denton Corker Marshall

There will also be an outdoor gallery including the reconstruction of three early Neolithic houses, based on rare forensic evidence found near Stonehenge. These houses will be built by skilled volunteers and are due to be complete by Easter 2014.

Sustainable Design

The building is sensitively designed to sit lightly in the landscape. Reversibility – the ability to return the site to its current state - was a fundamental design concept. The building will last as long as it needs to but could, if necessary, be removed leaving little permanent impact on the landscape.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre Denton Corker Marshall
Site plan - click for larger image

This is achieved by constructing it on a concrete raft which in turn sits on an area of 'fill' with minimal cutting into the soil. The modern construction, using slender steel columns and lightweight framed walls, and semi-external spaces allow the depth of foundations to be minimised.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre Denton Corker Marshall
West elevation - click for larger image

Other green features include:

» An open loop ground source heating system that pumps underground water through a unit to extract/inject heat energy. This enables the building to be heated and provides some cooling without the need for fossil fuels.

» Fully insulated cavity walls - the timber pod is constructed of structurally insulated panels (SIPS), which enables efficiencies in construction whilst minimising material waste and ensuring the building is well insulated.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre Denton Corker Marshall
North elevation - click for larger image

» Mixed mode ventilation – the building will be naturally ventilated whenever external conditions allow, switching to an efficient mechanical ventilation system that enables the heat energy in the exhaust air to be 'recovered' and transferred to the supply air, thereby reducing the load on the heating plant and saving energy.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre Denton Corker Marshall
East elevation - click for larger image

» "Grey water", including rainwater collected from the roof of the building, will be used for the bulk of water required at the visitor centre, e.g. for flushing toilets. Other water – e.g. for drinking - will be drawn from the aquifer, a local and renewable resource.

» The facilities will use on-site water treatment for sustainability and to avoid intrusive trenching for connections to water and sewer mains.

  • El Jiji

    I really dislike this building, especially its playfully pixelated roof edges and openings. You can ‘get’ the concept quite quickly, but it just looks sketchy. It looks like something SANAA could have done better.

  • Roger Hampton

    When are they taking the scaffolding down? That was my first reaction!

  • Redfern

    I don’t think building underground in an archaeological site like that would be sensitive! I agree this is not a very inspiring design, but burying a building underground in an area such as this is not a better solution.

  • Finlay

    The ideas in isolation seem weak. However, when contrasted with the experience of actually visiting Stonehenge, it all becomes clear. Lightness is contrasted against mass, shelter against exposure, clean lines and geometry against roughly hewn stone. The centre is the ‘Ying’ to Stonehenge’s ‘Yang’. I hope it lasts as long.

  • Waylandsmithy
  • yoshiMITsu

    I think the roof detracts from its lightness, which seems likes the main driver for the building. It actually feels heavy, despite being thin. The shadows it casts in fact burry the building.

  • Justin

    From what I understand the building’s site was pushed out of the conservation zone to minimise disruption of ancient artefacts possibly buried under other potential sites. As a result the entry is some 1.5 miles away from the stones.

    The direction taken to reach the attraction from the centre offers an approach similar to what the ancients may have taken, with a slowly building awe as you get closer on foot.

    The form and motif is subjective of course but I believe the architects chose the form to mirror the copse’ common in the plains around the site, one which allows the new building to not upstage the Sarsens Etal. Preferring to tone the building down rather than an in your face, detract from the real site, building.

    This is one of Europe’s most important prehistoric sites with over 2000 listed monuments in the zone. The new visitor centre deals with a million visitors a year accommodating all their needs to a budget and a brief and a timeframe. The architects have done a wonderful job, producing a very worthy building for such a special artefact.

    • generalpopulation

      Nice to see an informed response rather than some self-designated expert denouncing the thing before they’ve even visited it.
      Of course your post will never receive as many votes because it’s not negative or brash enough to drill into some of the pedants that visit dezeen.

  • ScottW315

    I would like to see a site plan to understand this building in relationship to the whole Stonehenge complex. I think the building manages to be ephemeral, yet timeless, disjointed, yet organised, complex through its simplicity and maintains a level of ambiguity that makes Stonehenge so interesting in the first place. Any architecture that manages to balance so many paradoxical elements is bound to be a work of quality. However, I do wish they had approached this in a similar fashion to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor’s Centre.

    Incorporating elements of landform building in the greater context of a site plan would allow the contemporary visitor centre to create a contextual relationship with the Stonehenge site, while allowing it to seamlessly exist as a subtle yet bold gesture that generates a didactic relationship between the timeless architectures of Stonehenge and the modern design of the visitor’s centre.

  • Jerry Kott

    Perfect!

  • Brueckner

    The dinky tube steel forest is too underwhelming and too cluttered to look light and airy, which I assume was their intent. It’s a battered birdcage.

  • lynB

    Just come back from a look at the new Stonehenge visitor centre – fabulous. Easy on the eye across the landscape, airy, open and cleverly thought through. Most importantly built with minimal intervention to this site of enormous cultural significance. Exhibition well researched and delivered interactively along with traditional panels and models. The pierced roof overhangs are lovely and on a sunny day presumably gives interesting shadows and drip patterns in the rain. The steel posts remind me of birch trees. Landscaping once matured will soften the site. Go see, you might like it!

  • KellyC

    I visited the new Stonehenge visitor centre last week and all I can say is wow! A beautifully designed and detailed building, the flow of the roof blends in with the landscape in the distance as you walk to and from the site.

    Once the landscape around the building begins to grow the building will really be settled in the landscape – the site of the ugly coaches is already well hidden. A fabulous building – a must see!

  • beya

    I have a scanned image of the site here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/beya/11669835733/sizes/l/
    It seems like there were not so many options for the location of the visitor centre as there were many archeological finds in the Stonehenge surroundings.