The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, which the architects tell us ‘can be understood as two folds into the landscape. One folds upwards revealing the building and the second folds down to form the carpark’ is featured in the current issue of Architecture Ireland, complete with a review by Stephen Best.
In keeping with RIAI tradition, the review gives the Heneghan-Peng designed Visitor Centre a pretty emphatic approval rating without the unnecessary unpleasantness of registering any reservations.
A couple of times, like a hapless Jerry guard thinking for a moment he hears a resourceful Tommy scrambling out of a nearby escape tunnel only to shake his head in relief at the appearance of a convenient rabbit, Best almost picks up some of the apparent inconsistencies in the Visitor Centre’s design concept.
First of all; the non-apparent entrance. This is supposed to be, he tells us, a ‘. . . building as a gateway, a triumphal pause on the journey rather than the destination in itself.’ That’s fair enough, but if you want the building to be a gateway, why conceal the entrance? ‘To enter . . . [ he goes on ] . . . you must slip between the honed black columns. The front door, a large glass revolving drum, is found not by indication but by discovery.’
Why is the entrance concealed? Best provides the answer; because ‘From the outside, all the normal architectural devices, the ones that define our idea of a building, doors, windows, and roof are completely suppressed from view.’
All that is except the incongruous parapet railings that completely undermine any Zumpthoresque aspirations to scalelessness or timelessness.
Again, just for a moment, Best questions the seemingly trendy angularity of the plan which he concedes is a devise that ‘. . . is too often a contrivance’, but then he shakes off his doubts by suddenly remembering that the Pyramids in Egypt [wonder what brought that to mind] abstracted geometry from the site to generate their building form! And you thought that the eccentric gentlemen who make programmes for the Discovery Channel had uncovered every conceivable daft notion about the Pyramids!
Having stated at the outset that the Causeway Visitor Centre ‘has the capacity to challenge our received notions of how to build in sensitive locations’ and ‘that it embraces notions of modesty and deference that eschew the desire to create a building as monumental icon.’ Best goes on to describe the building’s façade as; ‘a tapered black wall of trapezoidal columns that rise vertically from the ground to form a 6m high wedge’ . . . . as opposed to anything monumental!
The fact that this linear, alternating thick & thin, solid & void, binary façade treatment takes a ten year old prevailing trend in bar-code fenestration to its logical conclusion is oddly not mentioned.
The architects, in their contribution, talk of the ‘inherent properties of the locally sourced basalt stone’, which on the face of it would appear to include an almost man-made regularity of profile and the fundamentally characteristic hexagonal section, neither of which properties are allowed to feature in what is essentially an exercise in façade cladding.
No undulations, in either plane, were permitted to soften the machined monumentality of these basalt clad facades as they cut their incisions in the landscape, presumably because this would have softened the edgyness and weakened the prospects of winning the architectural competition. Nothing resembling a humble tree is permitted to intrude into this ‘. . . . carefully sculpted intervention into this landscape . . .’ again to take a quote from the architect’s description. The term ‘Landscape’ here is probably not to to be understood in any natural sense but rather through the cold prism of the international architect’s eye. In reality, the Causeway Road is nothing like a pristine landscape, it is a landscape littered with 19th and 20th century buildings, clusters of hotels and B+Bs, all in their own way serving visitors to the Causeway coast and all competing for custom and attention in their own modest way.
Internally, the photographs depict an eerily empty and slightly menacing space, with possible viral laboratory undertones, not helped by the dark grey concrete slab ceiling that hasn’t apparently fully cured bright white yet. Maybe so, but I’d place a small wager we’ll not be seeing that ceiling ‘bright white’ until it gets two coats of emulsion. The café, which looks slightly grim on plan and which isn’t illustrated in the photographs, allegedly has a ‘long view to the coastline’ according to the architects, although its short view [through the basalt cladding columns] is clearly over the adjacent Causeway Hotel car park.
Summing up his review, Best concedes that ‘Buried buildings in places of outstanding natural beauty, or adjacent to prehistoric monuments, are not new. They are the default solution in many cases . . . yet too often . . . . the designers are tempted by the locale and display too much architecture.’
No, it was just a rabbit shrugs Best as he concludes ‘Not here’, this is ‘not an architecture fixated with object making . . .’
In other news;
What have they done with Michelle Fagan?
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