The project is located at the ridgeline of the North Antrim coast at the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The proposal for the new visitor facilities can be understood as two folds into the landscape. One folds upwards revealing the building and the second folds down to form the carpark and shield it from view of the approach road and coastal path. Between the two folds, a ramp leads to the coastal ridgeline which is restored at this location.
The visitor’s centre at the Giant’s Causeway is experienced as an event along the route to the Causeway and the coastline. It is a carefully sculpted intervention into this landscape which is both visible and invisible, invisible from the cliffside yet recognisable from the land side.
Internally the building can be understood as a series of stepping floor plates which are linked by a series of ramps. These floor plates allow the different activities of the building to flow into each other creating a fluid movement through the building for the visitor. The cafe has been situated close to the main building entrance with a long view to the coastline. The visitor ends the route through the building by exiting onto the access road to the stones.
The folds are precise and geometric yet vanish into the patchwork that forms the tapestries of fields. The architectural expression of the edges of the folds is singular, stone mullions that echo the columnar landscape of the Causeway site. The strategy for the building creates a space between the basalt and the folded plane of the grass roof; a space formed within the materials of the site. The basalt edge is formed as a weave between basalt stone columns and glazing where changes are created in transparency and opacity along the visitor’s route. What belies this simple façade concept is a carefully engineered solution which evolved around the inherent properties of the locally sourced basalt stone.
The aspirations for this project in every way are of the highest order as befits its location, excellence in architectural and landscape design, excellence in sustainable practices and construction. The project’s design has received a BREEAM “Excellent” rating.
Gilbert-Ash were delighted to be Design & Build contractors on such a prestigious and bespoke project. There were some extremely difficult challenges for the team to overcome and we certainly put our problem-solving skills to the test.This project presented a very unique scenario as it is built on a UNESCO World Heritage site and therefore had to be carried out within strict and sensitive environmental and sustainability guidelines.
Both the building footprint and the basalt columns used to construct it are non-orthogonal in shape, which required a very precise, coordinated and integrated approach at planning and execution stage. The architects were happy to pass full responsibility for 3D modelling, coordination and integration to the Gilbert-Ash team. Our team developed a base 3D model which set the control parameters for all follow-on subcontractor packages. We pre-set zones and set-out for the stone mullions, glazing and engineering functions. Once the pre-defined parameters were set out, Gilbert-Ash released the model to subcontractors who developed their 3D design within these strict guidelines. We coordinated the integration of all sub-packages back into one holistic approach. This ensured the highest level of precision and coordination throughout every stage of the project.
The visitor’s centre is hidden from the coastal landscape by a grass roof and has environmental features such as water-permeable paving, natural lighting and rainwater harvesting. The green roof assists with insulation and minimised impact of the landscape. Indigenous grasses and wild flower seeds collected from the surrounding area are used for the planting on the green roof to maintain the sensitive ecology of the site.
The glazing is frameless and is double-argon fill low-e glass. The outer layer of glass is 10mm thick for robustness and is ‘extra white’ grade to allow more daylight through.
The building itself can operate passively once occupied although a heating system is provided to warm up the centre and to temper the incoming fresh air to meet occupancy requirements. The building is designed to operate at external temperatures of -15oC for a prolonged period. A 72kW ground source heat pump system was installed to meet the heating requirements of the building. This includes a horizontal collector mat under the main car park, the first system of its kind in Ireland.
• BREEAM ‘Excellent’ Award in design, materials, energy, construction management and ecology.
• Carbon emissions are less than 42% of the target set by building regulations
• ‘A’ rated EPC with a score of 22
• Fresh and comfortable internal environment – low carbon displacement ventilation system which uses fresh air directly from outside for most of the year without additional cooling and saves substantial energy
• Cooled by earth – used surrounding landscape and thermal mass as a cooling heat exchanger
• Sustainable transport framework developed – EV charging points, encouragement of public transport
• Local and Sustainable Materials – responsible materials sourcing as based on BREEAM standard
• Water Conservation – waterless urinals, green roof and rainwater recovery, grey water recovery – reduced water consumption by 75%
• Site Ecology – green roofing and maximised landscaping
• Waste Management – recycling and composting policy. During construction Site Waste Management Plan was implemented diverting 96% waste from landfill