The immediate visual aesthetic of the new £27m, 1515m2 Stonehenge visitor centre stems from its combination of glass and timber facades. At closer quarters, however, the 36 x 78.4 metres canopy and its 211 canted steel supports undoubtedly take the eye. 3600m2 of VMZINC Composite panels in QUARTZ-ZINC® have been used for the underside soffit area, the edge of which has an elaborate pattern of perforations. The multi-layered panels are made up of two 0.5 mm thick zinc sheets bonded either side of a mineral-rich polyethylene core. Though only 4mm thick overall, they offer exceptional smoothness, rigidity and dimensional stability and as a result can be used in lengths of up to 6 metres.
Australia’s Denton Corker Marshall won the competition to build the centre twice. Their first scheme was dropped when government budget cuts forced abandonment of a plan to build a tunnel to hide the A303. They responded to the World Heritage Site requirements by designing another building of contemporary style at ‘Airman’s Corner’.
A natural palette suited to the rural landscape was a key element of the brief and zinc was chosen for its sustainability, colour retention and self-protecting patina. The building has been designed to sit lightly in the landscape and to be demonstrably reversible. Its position in one of the lowest lying areas and remote location, distant from residential development, minimises any visual intrusion in the landscape. The contemporary steel structure and lightweight framed walls require minimal substructure so that, if removed, residual environmental impact will be minimal.
Attention of up to 1,000,000 visitors each year will undoubtedly be drawn to the zinc by the height of the building which, at up to 8 metres is comparable to the tallest trilithon stones. In addition to being visually distinctive, the canopy is considered to be one of the most notable architectural elements of the design.
The building has been designed to achieve high sustainability targets so local, recyclable and renewable materials were used wherever possible. A sustainable, fuel-efficient approach to heating and cooling greatly reduces energy use and carbon emissions while VMZINC was able to demonstrate that over 90% of material used in construction projects is already being recycled. Energy consumption in zinc manufacturing is also by far the lowest of any metal faÇade or roofing system. Not only can it be rolled at a lower temperature, less than half the energy is used in the manufacturing process compared with copper, stainless steel or aluminium. Air emissions are as little as 0.05mg/m3 while analysis of zinc concentrations in the Rhine, which passes through one of Europe’s areas of greatest industrial intensity, confirms that the balance is well within accepted environmental limits.
Such was the interest in zinc that the pod beneath the roof which provides ticketing and guide facilities is also clad in it. It provides a notable contrast to the timber and glass without suggesting that the divergent materials clash. With its range of colours now extending to blue, green, red and brown the scope it provides has never been greater.
View VM Zinc's profile: