Stonehenge visitor centre 25.03.14

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Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves – or desires," said the archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes in 1967. Back then, the ticket office was a concrete bunker, and you approached the stones through an underpass beneath a busy road that cut perilously close to the monument. In 2001, by which time this gateway was cluttered with unslightly Portakabins, Denton Corker Marshall was commissioned to build a new visitor centre and exhibition space. It proposed a massive earthwork a few miles away that you entered through a slit in a Richard Serra-like sculptural wall, and the ambitious building was buried in a slope covered in earth and greenery. When English Heritage abandoned the scheme, which was budgeted at more than £60 million and dependant on burying the nearby A303 in a tunnel, the Australian practice almost didn't enter the 2009 competition for a replacement. They eventually did, and won.

Located on a dry river bed 1.5 miles from Stonehenge, the muted new building – which is essentially a canopy on eccentrically placed stilts that rolls over two discrete pods, separated by a ticket office – came in at half the price. "It is designed to be legible to visitors," says Stephen Quinlan, partner at the firm, explaining that they reduced the volume of the structure to its essentials by moving all the ancillary needs to a wood-clad building that screens off the coach park.

"We absolutely didn't want to reference Stonehenge in any architectural way," he adds. Correspondingly, the structure is light, avoids the use of stone or lintels, and is rectangular in plan. The undulating zinc canopy echoes the Salisbury plains and shelters the pods, one glass, the other wood, reducing the heat load to allow for natural ventilation. A pixilated pattern perforates the soffit, so as to create interesting shadows, a digital effect also used for the openings on the weathered chestnut box that contains the services and exhibition space.
"We're straight, old-fashioned modernists, and the wonky columns, the holes in the roof and the articulated timber are not the things you'd usually find in our vocabulary," Quinlan says. "But we thought they added something."

One million visitors a year will leave this centre for the monument in carriages pulled by Land Rovers. Afterwards, they will be dropped back at the voluminous gift shop and cafe, with picture windows on to the dramatic landscape.





Christopher Turner



English Heritage

quotes story

We absolutely didn't want to reference Stonehenge in any architectural way...

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