Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre
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From the roadside about half a mile (1km) away, the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre is barely visible.
The building blends seamlessly with the folds of the natural landscape, a grey patch on a palette of earth colours. While the buildings occupying the same stretch of land, (e.g. Causeway Hotel, Causeway School) protrude outwards and upwards, like boxes on the horizon, the basalt grey Visitor Centre spews forth as if from a fissure deep in the earth. It is capped with an unusual sloping grass roof resembling a moss-covered boulder.
Imagined as a gateway to the ancient basalt formation, everything about the Visitor Centre harks back to the main attraction - although the two are never visible to each other. Dublin-based architects heneghan.peng won the commission to design the building in a competition. They understood that in order to complement the 40,000 columns, the Visitor Centre design must shun recent history seeking inspiration instead from the prehistoric past.
Most architects will agree that you can’t build anything without taking the weather into consideration. To say that Giant’s Causeway can be ‘a bit wet and windy’ may at times seem an understatement. Here, the elemental powers reign supreme – but the design of the building means that wind can skirt over and around it, and the grass roof is nourished by the frequent rain.
Once inside the building, you can really begin to appreciate its ingenuity. Vast, yet strangely cavernous, it lies in part underground. The internal space can be roughly divided into three zones: eating, shopping and interpretation. In the exhibition area you discover the science and stories surrounding the Giant’s Causeway through video, audio, picture and interactive exhibits.
A network of upgraded walking trails around the Causeway were completed as part of the Visitor Centre project. The Blue Trail is the traditional route to the stones, the Yellow Trail links with the Ulster Way, the Red Trail runs along the cliff top, affording beautiful views of the bays, and the Green Trail is a flat and accessible route for wheelchair-users or prams. The Visitor Centre also boasts Changing Places facilities for those with disabilities who cannot use conventional disabled toilets.
Graham Thompson, Project Director for the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, said: ‘People recognise that Northern Ireland’s number one tourist attraction, and our only World Heritage site, should have facilities to represent the quality of that experience. We now have a world class centre for a world class experience.’
Click here to read a timeline of the new Visitor Centre and click the link to buy tickets for the Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience.