Chris Blandford Associates (CBA) is designing landscape improvement works at Stonehenge to help restore a sense of dignity to the setting of one of the world’s most loved ancient monuments.
CBA has been involved in developing plans and proposals for the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, and its environmental planners and landscape architects are playing a significant role in assisting English Heritage deliver its latest improvements.
The Stonehenge and Heritage Site has been transformed with the opening in December of the new visitor centre, designed by Australian architects Denton Corker Marshall.
Upgrading visitor facilities at the site, which also includes the decommissioning and removal of a section of the A344 road and existing facilities close to the ancient stone circle, has been nearly 30 years in the making.
In 2008 consultation began on where to locate new facilities and on the closure of the A344, which the government had promised UNESCO would happen when the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site was created in 1986. Removing the road, which severed an ancient processional avenue from the site itself, was a key objective of this and earlier schemes.
In May 2009, the Minister for Culture announced that Airman’s Corner had been selected as the location of a new visitor centre, and a design team was appointed. A year later planning permission was obtained by CBA’s planners, but it took another 12 months to get enough funding together to start the project – the Stonehenge project is funded almost entirely by Heritage Lottery Fund money, commercial income and philanthropic donations.
In November 2011, after a public inquiry, English Heritage was granted the necessary ‘Stopping-up Order’ and, on 24 June 2013, having built a new roundabout at Airman’s Corner and with the Highways Agency’s improvements at Longbarrow roundabout complete, the A344 road was closed. Under the watchful eyes of archaeologists, the work of carefully removing the tarmac in preparation for grass seeding began.
While the new building completely changes the visitor experience for the better, says CBA Director Dominic Watkins, the stones themselves are the ultimate destination, and form part of a much wider prehistoric landscape. Accordingly, the visitor experience has four components: an exhibition inside the new building; an external gallery; a walk across the monuments in the wider landscape; and, a visit to the stones. The stones are reached on foot or by shuttle bus. Visitors follow a new clockwise route around them.
With the removal of the road, the surrounding landscape has now been opened up for exploration, explains Watkins. The most prominent of the 350 known ancient monuments in the landscape include the enormous earthwork known as the Stonehenge Cursus, the Stonehenge Avenue, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls as well as numerous barrows (prehistoric burial mounds).
Now that the new visitor centre is open, he adds, work has started to remove the existing facilities and replace the 1960s buildings with a smaller timber-clad structure, nestling in the landscape, which will be used as a security base.
The car park will be turned back to grass and a tunnel under the road filled in. This work will take until June 2014, says Watkins, and there will be some temporary routes until all the new grass areas have established, which is likely to take a couple of years – depending on the weather.
The long-held vision of a more tranquil, uncluttered landscape setting, worthy of the Stonehenge monument, with first-class visitor facilities, is now well on the way to being realised,” he adds.