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Works starts on new Stonehenge Visitor Centre 20 years after first mooted

Construction work on Denton Corker Marshall’s (DCM) Stonehenge Visitor Centre has started today (11 July) - 20 years after plans for a new building at the world-famous site were first mooted

The latest proposals for the Airman’s Corner site, 1.5 miles to the west of the stones, have been on the drawing board since February 2009, when the practice won the last in a series of competitions to design the much-needed, upgraded visitor facilities.

The first contest, run by project backer English Heritage, was scooped by Edward Cullinan Architects in 1992 and has been followed by a succession of designs on a number of different plots around the monument.

DCM’s scheme, which was originally budgeted at £20 milion but has since risen to £27 million, was ditched by the incoming coalition government as part of its cost-cutting drive in mid-2010.

However the project, which sits out of sight of the stones, was subsequently resurrected when the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) pledged an initial £10 million to build it. English Heiritage has now found all but £500,000 of the cash needed to complete the scheme.

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: ‘A new dawn at Stonehenge is truly upon us. Though the stones themselves have never failed to awe visitors, their setting has been a national embarrassment and disgrace. After nearly 30 years English Heritage finally has a scheme that will transform the setting of the stones and our visitors’ experience of them. The restoration of the landscape together with a major new exhibition on site will finally give our greatest and most famous monument the treatment it deserves.

‘Stonehenge is a national icon and this project will finally make it worthy of that status. Almost all the money to achieve our vision comes from commercial or private sources. We are tremendously grateful to have so many partners and private sector sponsors supporting us along the way.’

As part of the scheme the section of the A344 which currently runs past the monument – almost touching the Heel Stone - will be closed and grassed over, ‘reuniting the stone circle with its ancient processional way and the surrounding landscape’.

The remaining part of the A344 will be closed to public vehicles, and will become the route of a new visitor shuttle service to the stones.

The existing, outdated facilities, car park, fences and clutter near the monument will be removed. The new facilities, which include education rooms, are a 10-minute journey on the visitor shuttle.

Stonehenge - future aerial view

Stonehenge - future aerial view

The Stonehenge project will be completed in two phases:

  • In autumn 2013, the new visitor facilities and galleries will open and the A344 will be closed to traffic. (The section of the A344 next to the stones will already have been closed earlier in 2013.) Visitors will be taken to near the stones on a low-impact shuttle, with the option to disembark mid-way at a landscape viewpoint and walk to the stones from there.
  • By summer 2014, the existing car park, toilets, shop and fencing near the stones will have been removed and restoration of the landscape will be well underway. Visitors will be able to walk and enjoy the wider landscape and other outstanding prehistoric monuments.

Throughout construction Stonehenge will continue to welcome visitors as normal at its existing facilities. An opening date for the new visitor building will be announced in 2013.

Previous story (AJ 17.03.2011)

DCM’s Stonehenge Visitor Centre to start on site next Spring

English Heritage (EH) has said that construction work on Denton Corker Marshall’s (DCM) ‘cancelled’ Stonehenge Visitor Centre is likely to start on site next Spring (2012)

In June last year (2010) the government withdrew its funding for the £25 million proposal at the Airman’s Corner site 2.5km west of Stonehenge.

However since then project backer EH has succeeded in securing £10 million of cash from The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the controversial and long-awaited Wiltshire scheme now, finally, looks set to be built.

The much-discussed visitor centre project has been rumbling since 1986 and the current designs, the latest in a line of proposals, were won in contest by DCM in February 2009 (see bottom).

A spokeswoman for EH said: ‘[The project] is pretty much moving ahead with a view to opening in July 2013. The work will not affect visitors to Stonehenge using the existing facilities.’

Previous story (AJ 18.11.10)

New hope for DCM’s Stonehenge Visitor Centre

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has pledged £10 million towards Denton Corker Marshall’s (DCM) ‘cancelled’ Stonehenge Visitor Centre, effectively doubling its commitment to the project

Back in June the government said it was withdrawing its funding for the £25 million proposal at Airman’s Corner site 2.5km west of Stonehenge but left the door open for project backer English Heritage (EH) to find alternative funding (see below).

Following that shock decision EH went back to the HLF, which has seen its coffers boosted by £25 million in this financial year alone, and asked for more money then previously pledged.

A spokesman for EH said: ‘We have secured two thirds of the money we need and have only around £9 million to find. The project is very much moving forward and we are committed to delivering these improvements.

‘We have secured two thirds of the money we need and have only around £9million to find.’

Stephen Quinlan director of DCM said: ‘It is a good scheme and we are pleased EH has taken on the challenge to raise this money and bring the project to fruition.

‘There is a problem here that needs to be solved and we are hopeful they will succeed [in raising the extra cash].’

Quinlan confirmed the practice had not been asked to carry out any value engineering on the approved scheme.

Postscript

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: ‘We are tremendously grateful for this generous grant. Not only does it help to narrow the funding gap for the project considerably, it also sends out a message of confidence about the transformational benefits that the project will bring - to tourism,  local economy, and the conservation and public enjoyment of Stonehenge and its landscape. “

‘HLF’s grant will support work to remove the existing visitor facilities allowing the experience of the stones to be more naturally integrated with its ancient processional approach and the surrounding landscape. These much-needed wider improvements will give people the chance to explore what the site would have been like thousands of years ago. The project aims to improve the visitor experience, including the creation of a new carefully designed visitor centre which will include education and exhibition spaces to help people learn more about Stonehenge’s history. The project will also support training opportunities and a new volunteering programme.’

Previous story (AJ 17.06.10)

Government kills off DCM’s Stonehenge Visitor Centre

The government has announced it will cancel Denton Corker Marshall’s Stonehenge Visitor Centre, after a review of all spending decisions taken since 1 January

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury, revealed the full list of 12 projects cancelled as well as a further 12 that have been suspended.

He said: ‘As a result of the poor decisions made by the previous government, I have taken the decision to cancel certain projects that do not represent good value for money, and suspend others pending full consideration in the Spending Review.’

The project could still go ahead if alternative funding is identified.

Architecture minister, John Penrose, said: ‘I recognise the disappointment that everyone in the heritage community feels at today’s announcement. But I hope that they, and others, will understand why this has come about - the costs and benefits of this project had to be considered in the light of the current financial picture.

‘We all have to accept trade-offs, but even though we can’t afford to fund the project today, it remains a priority for the future.’

The list of cancelled projects also includes the North Tees and Hartlepool hospital and the Local Authority Business Growth Initiative.

The government earlier this month placed Denton Corker Marshall’s proposed Birmingham magistrates’ court on indefinite hold.

Previous story (21.05.10)

Stonehenge visitor centre finally approved

Denton Corker Marshall’s (DCM) scheme for a Stonehenge visitor centre has been approved, despite having come in for criticism from CABE

In the latest chapter in the 20 year-long saga surrounding the English Heritage-backed project, Wiltshire County Council last night approved the practice’s £20 million proposals for the Airman’s Corner site 2.5km west of Stonehenge. Plans for the closure of the A344 adjacent to the stones will now be submitted for approval.

Stonehenge project director at English Heritage Loraine Knowles said: ‘This is an important step in returning Stonehenge to a more dignified setting and creating facilities more fitting for a world-renowned tourist attraction.

‘We can now begin to look forward to providing a much improved, high quality experience for visitors at an environmentally sensitive development’.

Previous story (15.01.10)

‘Concerned’: CABE critical of new Stonehenge visitor centre plans

CABE has criticised Denton Corker Marshall’s (DCM) latest Stonehenge visitor centre plans, raising concerns about the canopy roof and landscaping

The government’s design watchdog felt the proposed £20 million Wiltshire scheme lacked a ‘clear landscape approach to integrate [the centre]’ into the countryside, claiming some of the ‘pedestrian routes around the car park [seemed] rather tortuous’.

The commission also picked out the centre’s undulating roof, which has been designed to float over two stand-alone pavilions, fearing it might ‘channel wind and rain under it rather than offer the level of protection visitors [would] expect’.

‘We have concerns about both the strategic and detailed approach to both landscape and architecture’

CABE added that DCM’s analogy that the thin structural roof supports represented a forest did not ‘seem to be conceptually strong’ and had ‘generated an architectural aesthetic that has not been convincingly resolved technically’.

Despite CABE’s attack (click here to read the full design review), the scheme on Airman’s Corner plot is highly unlikely to be redesigned and has already been recommended for approval when it comes before Wiltshire Council’s planning committee next Wednesday (20 January 2010).

In a statement released to the AJ by the project’s key backer, English Heritage, a spokesman said: ‘Innovative architectural designs will always polarise opinion, and often nowhere more so than within the architectural world itself.

‘For example, while CABE has its view, a panel of local architects – the Wiltshire Design Forum – has congratulated our architects for the design of the building. Such a divergence of views is not uncommon with high-profile schemes.

He added: ‘The Stonehenge project has to overcome a unique set of challenges… including its setting in a unique World Heritage landscape, archaeological considerations, traffic flows and differing considerations of special interest groups… [and] the needs of visitors to one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

 ‘This has required a pragmatic approach and, following widespread consultation, we maintain the current plans offer the best solution.’

DCM landed the contest to design the new facility back in February – effectively the second time after the demise of its original £65 million proposals in 2007 – seeing off Bennetts Associates and Edward Cullinan Architects in the process. 

Previous story (12.10.09)

AJ exclusive: Images of new Stonehenge Visitor Centre

[FIRST LOOK] The AJ can reveal the first official pictures of Denton Corker Marshall’s (DCM) new £20 million Stonehenge visitor centre in Wiltshire

The designs were unveiled as a planning application for the visitor centre on the Airman’s Corner plot – along with an application to close the A344 that runs next to the Stones – was made to Wiltshire Council.

The scheme features a perforated undulating canopy, supported by a forest of thin columns, which sits ‘lightly in the landscape above a pair of self-contained pods’ on a limestone pavement. The transparent, glazed box will house a shop and a café while the other solid ‘pod’ - clad in locally sourced chestnut wood - will be home to the exhibition space (click here to see early sketches).

DCM landed the contest to design the new facility back in February – effectively for a second time following the demise of its original £65 million proposals in 2007 – seeing off Bennetts Associates and Edward Cullinan Architects in the process.

Stephen Quinlan, director of architects’ Denton Corker Marshall, said: ‘Designing a visitor centre at a site of such importance is both a major challenge and a serious responsibility.  Our proposal, above all, seeks not to compromise the solidity and timelessness of the Stones, but to satisfy the brief with a design which is universally accessible, environmentally sensitive, and at the same time appears almost transitory in nature.

He added: ‘If once back at home, a visitor can remember their visit to the stones but can’t remember the visitor centre they passed through on the way, we will be happy.

‘The biggest challenge has been the centre’s setting on open grassland. There is nowhere to hide unlike the previous scheme which was camouflaged.’

Speaking to the AJ, Quinlan admitted the practice, which has a six-strong team working on the scheme, almost didn’t enter the second contest. However the London-based director decided to have another crack partly to counter accusations of ‘sour grapes’ following the demise of the practice’s original, sub-terranean proposals [on a different plot to the North East of the Stones].

The long-running visitor centre project has been rumbling since 1986 and is set to be funded by English Heritage (EH), Highways Agency, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Transport and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

EH told the AJ that it had factored in the possibility of a public enquiry into its timescale but still hopes the centre will be open in time for London’s Olympic Games in 2012. The total budget for the scheme, including roadworks, is £27.5 million.

Readers' comments (16)

  • Is this the best that can be achieved? Just like the National gallery extension the result is a failure of the competition system. DCM are a capable firm of architects and it is not them but the organisers who are to blame.

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  • Hmm. The quality of detail will be important on this one.

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  • feriHa  ozTURK

    this is a good design but not for this area..the canopy is not basic and fundamental component..climate is offering enough shadow..
    in my opinion it needs revision..

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  • A certain Mr K Long has just called it a piece of bland cr*p on his Twitter page.

    So that's it then. Bland cr*p it is.

    Still, who wanted that heap of stones to take centre stage?

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  • ^^^ hardly diplomatic either...I siuppose the great thing about this subject/professional call it what you will, is its ability to arouse debate.

    for my 2 cents worth...I think its got huge potential when built.

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  • Kieran Long

    Perhaps I should explain... There is something about this site that destroys any attempt to make a piece of architecture that means anything, and DCM's latest scheme looks to me like the kind of visitor centre that could be more or less anywhere.
    The practice's previous scheme, with its curved excavations, seemed to have something more to do with the site: a history of digging in the ground to discover our past. Simplistically, this new scheme is 'pods with a table on top' - a pattern book response to a visitor centre. It will certainly be forgettable, but I think that's a shame and a rather low aspiration for a building this important. And expensive.

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  • I am not familiar with the brief, nor the previous scheme, but as for this one, it seems that the architects attempted to be as un-Stonehenge-like as possible- perhaps in an effort not to "compete"? Is the site plan- approach, parking, building location- stipulated by the administrators?

    The "before" and "after" images show how impossible it is to impose anything on the landscape in proximity to Stonehenge. Though I don't agree with the architects' approach to the building, or the intervention on the site, I feel for the loss of the subterranean scheme, and expect that almost any intervention wouldn't work.
    Doesn't this scheme underscore the need to return to a subterranean scheme? If budget was the factor, the potential of this project should inspire giving to achieve something unseen, even if smaller. Rather than compromise history, compromise on the scope of the project if need be.

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  • It's Groundhog Day...does anyone get the sense of deja vu?

    Does anyone get the sense of deja vu?

    I like it...just a shame there's that bunch of stones next to it.

    And may I just say, helloooo Feriha...

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  • feriHa  ozTURK

    hi manfred..????

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  • is there any need for a visitor centre at all?

    visitor centres at most sites are pointless. They generally tell the adult visitor nothing he doesn't know already and nothing children haven't seen time and time before aswell. Styless wax and nylon hairy mock ups of 21st century interpretations of pre-historic fashions and cuisine, most of which will be found to be completely wrong by future archaeologists anyway. Just the same as all interpretations of the purpose of Stonehenge have been, except the last one of course.

    No need to build, it will, like previous excavation be looked on as damaging and sacrilegious in 75years time anyway.

    Build a big bus shelter with a book stall that sells maps and save on national debt.

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  • i kind of agree with CABE, and the comments here in terms of the site being very difficult to build on because of the scale of the stones and the grassland landscape. For some reason, materials wise i keep thinking about glass,

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  • Surely the best design treatment ever of Stonehenge has to be the one by Spinal Tap?
    A hard act to follow. Best of luck to the design team.

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  • RE: Colin Harwood comment on 20th October - "Build a big bus shelter with a book stall that sells maps and save on national debt"

    I will keep my eyes peeled for the Bus Shelter OJEU...

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  • JustFacades.com

    Love the Colin and Paul comments above, well done boys!

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  • Tony_J

    I have spent a lot more time looking at Stonehenge and its landscape than DCM and consider the design to be wholly inappropriate for two fundamental reasons. Firstly its angular features are unsympathetic to the surrounding chalkland; do its hard edged glass and metal elements fit this mellowed ancient setting? Also the locality is exposed, and can be extremely cold and windy, glass and steel, really? But, and more importantly, Stonehenge is itself an architectural design. Forget all the hype about Stone Age computers and ‘astronomical alignments’ it was conceived, just like any other major structure on a drawing board, and set out by extremely competent prehistoric surveyors some 4,500 years ago.

    Just like any other construction the Neolithic architects and engineers who built Stonehenge knew exactly what they wanted long before the foundations were dug. The stones were positioned in respect of this superb premeditated geometric structure. It was also largely prefabricated (just look for example at the jointing in the lintels) which also indicates just how much thought and planning went into the design. As for alignments, it has only one, it’s axis of symmetry is that of the midwinter sunset and midsummer sunrise. It employs and incorporates elements which are natural, cyclic, and totally at one with the chalkland setting; few modern designers could take blocks weighing up to 50 tones and create such an elegant structure. Does this new visitor centre in any way convey a sense of understanding of what Stonehenge represents? We may not know what it for, but we do know how it was designed and built. Here is a unique opportunity to celebrate not only our finest prehistoric monument, but the very dawn of architecture itself. I believe we - and future generations deserve better than this.

    Anthony Johnson, Author ‘Solving Stonehenge’

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  • John Kellett

    I don't think we ever found out what was 'wrong' with the rather excellent scheme by Edward Cullinan!

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