In Ireland, An Epic Green Building For An Epic Landscape

Northern Ireland‘s Giant’s Causeway is, as the name suggests, an epic landscape. Legend has it that the famous Finn MacCool, a renowned warrior, once challenged a Scottish giant to a test of strength; the giant blustered back that if only he could swim the North Channel (which separates Ireland from Scotland), he would make sure that MacCool never fought again. But when MacCool used his superhuman strength to bridge the channel, the giant had no choice but to make the trek — hence, the name.

Now the Giant’s Causeway Coast, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, can lay claim to some epic architecture as well in the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre. Built using the latest in sustainable strategies and materials, the center offers visitors panoramic views of the coastline via its rooftop observation area. It was also built to integrate seamlessly into the landscape, appearing to literally emerge from the earth at the site’s ridge line. Another salient feature: taking a tip from the cliffside landscape of the Causeway, which features 40,000 hexagonal basalt stones, the central feature of the new center is its 186 basalt columns composed of locally quarried stone.

Giant's Causeway Visitor's Centre

image via heneghan peng

This building, which garnered a ‘Excellent’ designation under the BREEAM international green building standard, was designed by Dublin-based architects heneghan peng.  The center features include a green roof planted with local grasses grown from seed collected from the surrounding area, helping the building to blend seamlessly into the environment even as it offers food and forage for local wildlife.

In order to achieve this level of green certification from BREEAM, a building must amass points for conservation strategies in the realms of energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions; green management (including commissioning, site management and procurement); indoor air quality and occupant health; low-impact transportation; water conservation; green materials (based on lifecycle impacts of materials); resource efficiency; pollution reduction; smart land use and planning; and ecological site conservation.

Giant's Causeway Visitors Centre

image via heneghan peng

‘Excellent’ is BREEAM’s second highest level of certification.

Trails and pathways throughout the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre site have been upgraded as part of the development to offer improved access and views of the surrounding scenery. The center also offers exhibitions, audio guides, trails and cliff top walks showcasing the stories and science of the remarkable basalt columns that attract so many visitors each year.

The building is part of an £18.5 ($28.7) million investment financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the United Kingdom’s National Trust.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.