SWINDON, England, July 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --
A giant transformation awaits visitors to Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site with the opening of a new state-of-the-art visitor centre at the Giant's Causeway.
With panoramic rooftop views of the coastline available for the first time, the award-winning building is part of an £18.5 million investment - financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the National Trust - to offer a new gateway to this iconic site.
The new visitor centre was designed by Dublin based architects heneghan peng.
Inspired by the site's 40,000 hexagonal basalt stones and the stories of legendary giants Finn McCool and Benandonner, the main feature of the centre is its 186 basalt columns made from locally quarried stone.
The centre has also been designed to sit seamlessly within the landscape without impacting the view from the stones.
Already achieving the BREEAM 'excellent' standard, the centre has been built using the latest thinking in sustainable design and materials.
It is also jammed full of the latest technologies to enhance visitors' enjoyment of this very special place.
The roof of the building is planted with local grasses grown from seed collected from the surrounding area so that the centre integrates with the landscape and offers a haven for local wildlife.
Trails and pathways throughout the site have also been upgraded to offer improved access and views of the spectacular scenery.
Exhibitions, audio guides, trails and cliff top walks, are all part of the project to showcase the stories and science of the remarkable basalt columns to people of all ages.
New interactive displays and activities inside the visitor centre include an animation of the legend of Finn McCool and an innovative hand-held audio guide.
Visitors can also discover the science behind how the site was created and read the engaging stories of local people connected to the site.
John McKay, aged 96, worked as a 'flag' boy on the tram that used to bring visitors to Giant's Causeway.
He said: "I have lived all my life only a stone's throw away from the Giant's Causeway. You could say it has always been in my blood.
"There is something very special about this place that just has a hold over you.
"I am honoured and privileged to have my story told at the new centre and to see my great grandson dressed as I was as a flag boy will be a cherished memory."
Heather Thompson, National Trust Director for Northern Ireland, said: "It was extremely important for us to create visitor facilities worthy of this unique, legendary visitor attraction.
"As well as looking the part, we wanted to ensure the building was sustainably built using the latest technologies wherever possible.
"Currently 600,000 people visit the stones each year, and the new centre will enable us to increase capacity by 30 per cent.
"This will not only provide a major boost to the regional economy, but we will now employ 150 local people and 30 volunteers.
"This is a significant milestone for the National Trust in Northern Ireland and is the culmination of years of working in partnership with stakeholders in the community, the business sector, the government and political arenas."
The £18.5 million project has taken two years to complete.
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About National Trust:
The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 720 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information on the charity's conservation work and ideas for things to do in Northern Ireland go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk
The National Trust
SOURCE The National Trust