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.