The innovative and imaginative Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre was opened in June 2012 and is both eco and carbon footprint friendly, it was designed by the architects Heneghan Peng who won an international competition for the design. The construction was carried out by Glibert Ash. The exemplary building is located on the Causeway Coastal Route and for the most part underground with an accessible grass roof which blends seamlessly into the environment. The polished basalt columns that form the facade rise out of the ground and give the viewer a modernistic interpretation of the causeway stones.
The stone quarried locally at Kilrea was cut and polished in County Down before being built by stone masons. Each piece in each column is different. The building is also unique in having very few right angles, everything follows the diagonal including the retail displays and cafeteria layout. The interior houses retail, cafeteria and an interpretation area where people can browse at their leisure or if they wish follow a fast track system to the exit point for the shuttle bus down to the causeway stones. To facilitate the new centre a large car park has been created adjacent to the building and another park exists at Innisfree (car park 3). 276 car spaces are available onsite (car parks 1 & 3) 65 car spaces (car park 3) and 15 disabled spaces,
A Park and Ride system operates from Dundarave Car Park at Bushmills where 92 car spaces, 4 disabled spaces and 8 coach spaces exist. Those parking in Bushmills which is free, can [urchase a Green Ticket which will save up to three pounds on a family ticket and £1.30 on an individual one. Please check the 'access' link for more details. A wee tip, if you park in Bushmills and take the Park and Ride you will enjoy a cheaper visit. Alternatively, if you travel and visit National Trust properties you should consider taking out a membership as this grants free access to attractions all over the UK and Scotland and offers exceptional value for money.
Access to the Causeway Stones via the footpath remains, as it always has, free of charge in keeping with the public 'Right of Way' to the foreshore. This access is open at all times with no exceptions, unless a major rock fall occurs. If this happens then warning notices are placed on the site to guide people. A new upgrade to the network of trails has recently taken place with new rest points and information viewing locations, this will enhance your experience and offer easier access to Runkerry Head viewpoint and a walk between the Visitor Centre and the Community Learning Centre at Innisfree Farm.
The Giant's Causeway is a protected site, therefore the building had to be constructed within the current planning restrictions and guidelines of a World Heritage Site, the new building has a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating, the world’s leading design and assessment method for sustainable buildings.
To achieve this recycled aggregates were used for the concrete ceiling, floors and pillars along with two innovative underground cooling and heating systems. The fascinating geometry of the building required precision and exceptional co-ordination, the entire structure had a 1 milimetre tolerance which meant that each stone had to be perfect. As 1800 square metres of the building is semi-buried, lighting was introduced in the form of glass panels along the grassed roof area.
The building is also declared 'inalienable' meaning it must be preserved in perpetuity, which was enabled under the government's National Trust Acts due to the quality of the building alone. Today we have a building that our local and international visitors deserve and also a standard of service to match.