The immediate visual aesthetic of the £27m Stonehenge visitor centre stems from its glass and timber facades and 211 canted steel supports. At closer quarters, however, the canopy takes the eye, 3600m2 of VMZINC Composite panels in QUARTZ-ZINC® having been used for the underside soffit. An elaborate pattern of perforations has been cut into the panels which are made up of two 0.5 mm thick zinc sheets bonded either side of a mineral-rich polyethylene core. Despite the thin 4mm profile, panels are exceptionally smooth, rigid and dimensionally stable. As a result, lengths of up to 6 metres can be installed.
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 design had to demonstrate reversibility and sit lightly in the landscape so a steel structure with lightweight framed walls was specified. The minimal substructure will present little environmental impact if the building is ever removed and its low lying, remote location minimises visual intrusion.
Attention of up to 1,000,000 visitors each year will be drawn to the zinc by the height of the building which, at up to 8 metres is comparable to the tallest trilithon stones. Local, recyclable and renewable materials were used where possible and VMZINC was able to demonstrate that over 90% of material recovered from construction projects at the end of its design life is already being recycled. Energy consumption in manufacturing and air emissions are by far the most impressive of any metal façade or roofing system. Zinc concentrations in the Rhine, which passes through one of Europe’s areas of greatest industrial intensity, are also well below accepted environmental limits.
Zinc has, in addition, been used for cladding the pod housing ticketing and guide facilities. It provides a notable contrast to the timber and glass without suggesting that the materials in any way clash. With zinc colours now including blue, green, red and brown the design scope it provides has never been greater.