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Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Wiltshire

A new visitor centre, car park, coach park and landscaping works to improve the setting of the Stones. Designed by Denton Corker Marshall.

21 December 2009

Planning reference: S/2009/1527/FUL

Tagged with: Culture and leisure | Design review | Design review panel | Historic environment | South West

Summary

We welcome the renewed efforts to improve visitor facilities for Stonehenge. While we recognise the challenge faced by the design team in responding to the sensitivities and constraints of this World Heritage Site, we have concerns about both the strategic and detailed approach to both landscape and architecture which we feel need to be addressed before planning permission is granted.

Landscape strategy

There is an opportunity to secure a comprehensive solution for the Stonehenge site that, at last, will improve the setting of the monument and provide visitor facilities worthy of this internationally significant monument. We support the key strategic moves to cut short the A344, de-clutter the site, locate the visitor centre and car park south of the A344, and to separate the coach park and support building from the visitor facilities. However, as yet, we have not seen evidence of a clear landscape approach to integrate buildings, parking and visitor access at both the strategic and detailed. In our view, the arrival sequence should be considered as part of the whole visitor experience of the landscape, eventually leading to the Stones. For example, we were not sure that the approach sequence would seem clear to visitors from the roundabout onwards, which would then necessitate signage to explain it.

The visitor centre is essentially a pavilion and car parks sitting in a very open rolling landscape. A feeling for this landscape is critical to the success of the scheme but seemed to be lacking in this presentation and accompanying images. We would have expected the scheme to demonstrate a logical and meaningful approach to placing each element in these open fields and establishing straightforward and intuitive links between them. Instead, the pedestrian routes around the car park seem rather tortuous and meet the visitor centre paving in an oddly incidental fashion. The surfaces used for car parks and paths are highly critical in maintaining the feel of the landscape context, but they are shown as hard line routes on current drawings. All these aspects need to work together to define the quality of the arrival experience and to build up the anticipation of visitors. We would have expected a more integrated approach to landscape in the design development of the project and more detailed information on the landscape proposals in the design and access statement at planning stage.

Visitor centre

We support the basic proposition of arranging the visitor centre accommodation into two simple boxes united by a single canopy roof. However, the analogy of a forest does not seem to be conceptually strong and has generated an architectural aesthetic that has not been convincingly resolved technically. We question whether the building will be perceived in this way either from the landscape or the orientation space and we think the random arrangement of so many columns and the way these meet the thin edge of the roof canopy will fall short of the robust integrity that we would expect of a building on this site.

One appealing aspect of the proposal is the delicacy of the canopy roof structure. We are concerned that the demands of supporting a paper thin canopy on slender columns in this exposed environment will require a highly engineered solution that may compromise the visually delicate structure shown. While we accept that the intention is to create an open air experience, we question whether the roof will tend to channel wind and rain under it rather than offer the level of protection visitors will expect. Without further information on the micro-climate it is difficult to judge this, but we suggest the actual amount of shelter offered by the roof canopy in all weathers should be further tested.

Conclusion

The need for new visitor facilities at Stonehenge is undisputed and we are glad to see such a thorough proposal for the whole site. Our questions are about the extent to which the scheme fulfils its potential to support and intensify the visitor experience of a visit to the Stones. We feel that more work is needed before this critical potential is achieved.