Sumburgh Head Marine Life Visitor Centre experience redevelopment

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Re-developing the visitor experience at Sumburgh Head Marine Life Visitor Centre.

To convert a purpose-built grade 1 listed Stevenson’s Lighthouse, originally designed to warn off the unsuspecting and weary mariners, into a 21st Century marine life visitor centre.

The lighthouse’s remote location within a nature reserve, and its status as a site of special scientific interest, presented both practical and aesthetic issues that needed to be treated with specific and sensitive consideration.

Over generations, the Shetland landscape forged a delicate relationship between people, place and nature; this intricate and dynamic harmony provided a fascinating wealth of interpretative content. An incongruous arrangement of exposed open-air cliff tops, (characteristic of the Sumburgh Head peninsula) through to the fortified confinements of military installations, juxtaposed against precise, engineered industrial lighthouse buildings were the canvases to seamlessly express the abundant, diverse heritage and natural history found here.

A project of this scale, calibre and complexity required a robust and convincing creative and commercial vision to secure a multimillion-pound financial investment to develop the scheme beyond a paper dream.

From the brief, a singular defining visionary approach was identified that unified all of the subject matter in an integrated, interpretative design strategy. The rationale behind the project was to combine spirit and imagination with the innovative and emotive associations of the subject matter, while maximising the use of light. This translated unilaterally across the architectural, environmental and social landscapes. In parallel, a carefully considered array of media, incorporating technology, interactivity and content communication ensured a broad appeal, connecting with all visitor groups and ages - both to the novice and specialist alike.

An interpretative master plan mapped out the various visitor routes, while content locations bound the whole project together, providing the framework to merge 2 and 3-dimensional design within the wider construction and build programme.

Since the facilities were officially opened by HRH Princess Royal, patron of the Northern Lighthouse Board, all visitor feedback has been positive. Now acknowledged as a world-class visitor attraction, and setting a precedent for future developments of its kind, Sumburgh Lighthouse is a true reflection of the dedication and credit to the entire project team; including funding bodies, stakeholders and the local communities who got behind, believed in, and supported the redevelopment of these historic lighthouse facilities.

Shining bright, its light now bringing new life to a coastal peninsula 60 degrees north.

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Now recognised as a world class visitor attraction

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Set a precedent for future developments of its kind

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