Architecture: A quick change for Stonehenge: Plans to remodel the ancient site are being pursued with extreme haste, says Jonathan Glancey

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The Independent Culture
IT TOOK several thousand years to build and rebuild Stonehenge. Now Jocelyn Stevens, the new chairman of English Heritage, plans to remodel the ancient site in just two years. Architects worldwide have just five days from now to register for a design competition that will lead very rapidly to the closing of roads flanking the site, the 'elimination' (Mr Stevens's word) of existing visitors' facilities and the design and construction of a new visitors' centre.

Architects must scramble to get in touch with English Heritage in the hope of meeting Mr Stevens's deadline. Speaking in terms of 'missions' and 'targets', Mr Stevens says that the competition assessors (Terry Farrell, an architect and English Heritage commissioner; Dame Elizabeth Chesterton, an architect and member of the National Trust Council; Michael Andrews, a landscape artist; Rodney Melville, a National Trust architect; and Mr Stevens) will meet on 26 August to choose six entrants to the competition proper. The six will submit design proposals by 26 September and the winner will be announced a month later. Mr Stevens will raise the pounds 15m or so necessary to fund the project (the Government will contribute nothing) and work will begin as soon as a public inquiry and Salisbury District Council have approved the scheme.

Mr Stevens feels that advertisements placed in last week's issue of the Architect's Journal and Building magazines are sufficient to attract the attention of architects worldwide. 'Stonehenge is well enough known,' he says and, after all, 'architects have fax machines, don't they?'

They do, but one wonders quite why the haste, to which there is no satisfactory answer, other than the desire on the part of Mr Stevens and English Heritage to be seen to get something done. With relatively little time and effort, Stonehenge could become a showpiece of intelligent and sensitive conservation.

'We're not looking for an architectural statement; the visitors' centre is not to be seen,' says Mr Stevens, explaining why he has abandoned his original idea of an open international competition to be organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects. It will, however, be an important building.

Because visitors will have to walk to Stonehenge from the visitors' centre, English Heritage (which cares for the stones) and the National Trust (which owns the land) expect many people to stay inside the centre rather than face the rigours of the 1.5 mile walk across Salisbury Plain. Doubtless, Mr Stevens, a man in a hurry, would have them jogging.

English Heritage/National Trust Stonehenge Conservation and Management Project (071-973 3561; fax 071-973 3430).

(Photograph omitted)