A visitor center is too often an afterthought, filled with brochures and educational exhibits that pertain to some other attraction, whether a national park, a landmark, a historic site or an entire town. But these 13 visitor centers are among those that stand out for their own architecture and sensitivity to their environments, from an off-grid building in the marshes of England to a brightly colored river rock structure in Tibet.
OceanScope, Incheon City, South Korea
(images via: architizer)
Eco-friendly and inexpensive, shipping containers are an increasingly popular choice as the basis for modular buildings of all sorts, but the results are not always pretty. Architecture firm AnLstudio literally thought outside the box to come up with the design for OceanScope, a visitor center in Incheon City, Korea’s largest port city. Five recycled shipping containers were transformed into observation decks and temporary exhibition space to give guests incredible views of the city’s sunsets.
Sulfur Cavern Visitor Center, Graciosa Island, Portugal
(images via: freshome)
Travelers passing through the Sulfur Cavern area in Graciosa Island, Portugal stop for information at this stunning cantilevered building overlooking the rocky landscape. Architect Nuno Ribeiro Lopes renovated an existing structure to produce this fresh modern structure, which has two walls made entirely of glass.
Cley Marshes, Norfolk, England
(images via: inhabitat)
Natural and unobtrusive, the green-roofed Cley Marshes visitor center in Norfolk, England is barely distinguishable from the landscape in which it’s found. That’s a good thing for a sustainable visitor center located in environmentally sensitive wetlands. The wind- and solar-powered building is completely off-grid and collects rainwater to flush the toilets.
Caerphilly Castle Visitor Center, Caerphilly, Wales
(images via: archidose)
The swooping stern-like shape of this modern visitor center is a sharp contrast to the weathered rock of ancient Caerphilly Castle in Wales. Davies Sutton Architecture believed it would be a mistake to try to mimic the architectural style of the original structure when building the new addition to the grounds, saying, “The aim at Caerphilly was to create a building that is sympathetic with its historic surroundings and yet is clearly a building “of its time” – not a pastiche of the past or a fake. It is a balance of modern and traditional – using traditional materials to reflect the past but put together in a way that is of its time – ‘today’.”
Craig Thomas Visitor Center, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
(images via: archdaily)
Nearly as dramatic as the national park in which it is set, the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Wyoming is warm and well-balanced with a jagged roof that echoes the craggy Grand Tetons beyond. The gleaming metal roof contrasts beautifully with the western red cedar facade, mixing modern design with the rustic look for which the area is known.
Suncheon Wetlands Visitor Center, Korea
(images via: inhabitat)
The well-visited Suncheon Wetlands in Korea will soon get a stunning visitor center that provides exhibition space, educational displays and other important facilities without putting too much stress on the sensitive, shallow salt marshes, which are home to at least 25 threatened species. Fluid as the water that surrounds them, the buildings that make up the Suncheon Wetlands Visitor Center will be partially green-roofed, raised on stilts and flooded with natural light.
Nebra Ark Visitor Center and Observation Tower, Nebra, Germany
(images via: daily tonic)
Visitors flock to Nebra, Germany from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the Nebra Sky Disc, an ancient bronze artifact that is the earliest known representation of the cosmos. They’re welcomed to the town by this striking visitor center by Holzer Kobler Architekturen which stands alongside an observation tower that provides a view of the site where the disc was found. The luminescent upper portion of the visitor center was given golden cladding to echo the “solar bark”, one of the motifs depicted on the disc.
Snæfellsstofa Visitor Center, Skriðuklaustur, Iceland
(images via: below the clouds)
On a picturesque hillside in Iceland, this X-shaped building welcomes visitors who flock to Europe’s largest glacier. The Snæfellsstofa visitor center, designed by Arkis, is an understated yet thoroughly modern addition to the quiet countryside of the area, made of concrete, steel and untreated wood. The structure is topped with a green roof and contains a cafe, exhibition areas, offices, a library, meeting spaces and a shop.
Culloden Battlefield Visitor Center, Scotland
(images via: plusmood)
A monument to the last land battle within the United Kingdom, when King George II’s troops defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie and his supporters in 1746, the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Center features a wave-form roof designed to mimic the position of the government troop line in the midst of fighting. With a low profile that resists wind chill and a design that lets in lots of natural lighting, this visitor center includes educational and conference facilities as well as a cafe, restaurant, shop and accommodations for staff.
Cardiff Bay Visitor Center, Wales
(images via: architecture linked)
Designed as a temporary structure, the Cardiff Bay Visitor Center by Alsop Architects was another brilliant example of modern buildings placed alongside historic sites in a thoughtful, complimentary way. Built at a low cost with a PVC membrane stretched across its timber frame, the ‘information pod’ was meant to be a two-year structure but stood for over a decade. It was dismantled in October 2010 to make way for a new road.
Mareld Visitor Center Concept, Kosterhavet National Park, Sweden
(images via: ecofriend)
Sweden’s first marine national park, the Kosterhavet, will get a sustainable visitor center designed by White Arkitekter. The self-sufficient structure will harness its energy for electricity from the sun, and heat from the water of the Koster sea. A diaphanous shell will allow natural light to illuminate the facility, and drinking water will be produced from desalinated seawater. The sparsely populated South Koster Island, where the facility and national park will be located, is a haven for sea life. The name, Mareld, is translated as “sea fire”, named for the natural marine bioluminescence of the area.
Hanil Visitor Center & Guest House, Korea
(images via: archdaily)
The front of the Hanil Visitor Center & Guest House almost looks like it’s made of soft folds of fabric – but the material is, in truth, the exact opposite. Built to educate visitors about the potential for recycling concrete in a nation where concrete is the most prevalent building material, this visitor center is an example of creative reuse. Concrete was broken down and recast in a variety of materials including, surprisingly enough, translucent tiles. It’s located adjacent to Korea’s Mt. Sobaek National Park.
Niyang River Visitor Center, Tibet
(images via: dezeen)
Modern architecture is not a common sight in Tibet, but in this case, it not only blends in with the landscape but pays tribute to local building customs. Situated on a river beach, the Niyang River visitor center is made of stacked local river rock coated in aga clay, a natural waterproofing material, with an interior that was ‘carved’ from the mass in geometric forms. The architects chose bold colors, “a crucial element of Tibetan culture”, painting mineral pigments directly on the stone surfaces; as the sun changes direction throughout the day, the colors appear to change.