New £18.5 million visitor centre opens at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland

By Culture24 Reporter | 03 July 2012
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A photo of a tall, square grey building shooting towards a blue sky
After two years of development, Giant's Causeway has a proud new visitor centre
© Heneghan Peng
Panoramic rooftop views of the Northern Irish coastline, a structure built on 186 basalt columns of local stone and a technology-crammed, environmentally-futuristic interior mean the new visitor centre at Giant’s Causeway – envisaged as a “gateway” to the world heritage site – should be something to behold.

Dublin architects Heneghan Peng have apparently kept the legends of noblemen 2,000 years ago in their thoughts while crafting the £18.5 million building. And although it’s inspired by the surrounding remnants of 40,000 basalt stones thrown from the seabed by volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago, its creation took the slightly briefer time lapse of two years.

A photo of grey slabs holding a green pathway surrounded by railings out towards sea
The centre has impressive sustainability credentials
© Heneghan Peng
“There is something very special about this place that just has a hold over you,” believes John Mckay, a 96-year-old whose memories are part of the display inside, having once worked as a ‘flag’ boy on the tram rumbling visitors into the astonishing coastal landmark.

“I am honoured and privileged to have my story told at the new centre. To see my great-grandson dressed as I was as a flag boy will be a cherished memory.

“I have lived all my life only a stone’s throw away from the Giant’s Causeway – you could say it has always been in my blood.”

The depth of feeling for this place is tangible, demanding an imaginative historical response.

New interactive displays feature Finn McCool, a gigantic forefather of the shore supposed to have lived at the Causeway.

Reimagined trails and pathways, exhibitions, audio guides, trails and cliff top walks have also been freshly dreamed up, as well as the story of the science behind a site powered by a huge ground-source heat and earth pipe cooling system, constructed with concrete made from largely recycled materials.

Aside from its astounding vantage point, the roof has been planted with seeds collected from the surrounding area – part of a plan to integrate the centre within the landscape, attracting local wildlife and adding to the picturesque scenery.

“It was extremely important for us to create visitor facilities worthy of this unique, legendary visitor attraction,” says Heather Thompson, of landowners the National Trust, who supplemented their own investment with funding from the European Regional Development Fund, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“As well as looking the part, we wanted to ensure the building was sustainably built using the latest technologies wherever possible.

“Currently 600,000 people visit the stones each year, and the new centre will enable us to increase the capacity by 30 per cent.  

“This is a significant milestone for the National Trust in Northern Ireland. It is the culmination of years of working in partnership with the community, business sector, government and political arenas.”  

Thompson expects the Causeway to employ 150 local people and 30 volunteers.

“Volunteering here means being part of a team committed to promoting this World Heritage Site,” says Moya Moss-Bowpitt, a volunteer Ranger at the Causeway for the past two years.

“The new visitor centre and experience is an exciting and vibrant development for the Giant's Causeway. I am very proud to be part of it.”

More pictures:

A photo of a concrete silver path leading towards a new visitor centre under a blue sky
© Heneghan Peng
A photo of a visitor centre with screens and a boat and a wooden floor
© Heneghan Peng
A photo of the outside of an outdoor visitor centre with a concrete path
© Heneghan Peng
A photo of grey concrete slabs standing upwards on grass at an outdoor heritage site
© Heneghan Peng
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