Specifier Review
Duct Products makes giant steps in Visitor Centre Ventilation

Duct Products makes giant steps in Visitor Centre Ventilation

Duct Products, the heating and ventilation suppliers of Newtownards, County Down, has supplied three bespoke air-handling units (AHUs) to provide conditioned air to the recently opened visitor centre at the world famous Giant’s Causeway in Antrim, Northern Ireland.


Duct Products are now part of the Elta Group, with its operations in seven countries, with the integration of Duct Products’ extending the capabilities of the Group’s existing business in Eire with the acquisition of the Northern Ireland based company and its 23 years of experience.

The units for the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre were built by Barkell, one of Britain’s leading manufacturers of custom-built AHUs, which are all designed and tailored to meet the specific requirements of each application.  Duct Products has been Barkell’s local agent since 2000 and has supplied numerous air handling units to various high specification and other, more day to day, projects throughout Northern Ireland.

Every summer, thousands of visitors walk upon the 40,000 interlocking, polygonal columns of layered basalt of the Giant’s Causeway.  Formed by the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows resulting from intense volcanic and geological activity over 60 million years ago, this natural tourist attraction is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Primarily a resource for visitors, the new state of the art centre, located on the Causeway Coastal Route on the north Antrim coast, is – as you might expect – a building with conservation at its heart.  It features an exhibition showcasing the folklore and the science behind the Giant’s Causeway, a ‘grab-and-go’ style café, a shop introducing new and exclusive local products, accessible toilets and a changing facility for people with disabilities.  Duct Products supplied: two AHUs with a duty of 3.6m3/s – one for the exhibition area and one for the retail and café areas; one intake plenum with a duty of 7.2m3/s also to serve the exhibition and retail areas; and another AHU with a duty of 1.4m3/s to serve the kitchen area.

The 1,800m2 facility, which opened in July this year to much acclaim, was the winning result of an international competition and was designed by Heneghan Peng, the budding young architectural firm based in Dublin. Naturally, it was constructed within the restrictive guidelines of such a prestigious and protected site.

The new building, which cost £18.5m and took 18 months to complete, has achieved a certificated BREEAM assessment rating of ‘Excellent’ under the world’s leading design and assessment method which sets the standard for best practice in sustainable building design, construction and operation.  To achieve this level of environmental performance, the centre not only utilises things such as recycled aggregates within its construction but also includes innovative underground systems for its cooling and heating.  The units supplied by Duct Products play an important and integral role within both these systems.  Planning restrictions  prevented traditional boilers and chillers being used, so heating and cooling coils within the AHUs had to be selected to operate in conjunction with the services supplied from the ground-source, heat pump system and the earth pipe, ground coupled heat exchanger.  The location of the fresh air intake, together with the limited space in the plant room, also meant that detailed co-ordination was needed to provide some degree of flexibility for the installation and associated services.

Mechanical and electrical design consultants for the project, Bennett Robertson of Belfast, specified the Barkell units from Duct Products having previous knowledge of them from earlier projects where planning restrictions were a consideration – as had the contractors, Vaughan Engineering.  The fully welded, galvanised framework of the Barkell units creates robust and highly durable products, in which airflow ranges from approximately 0.3m3/s to 35m3/s – and even higher by considered design.  A range of standard air handling components, such as heating, cooling, filtration, heat recovery elements etc. is available but as the units are all bespoke, controls, specialist filtration and other unusual components or arrangements can also be accommodated.

The defining feature of the visitor centre at the world famous site is the material from which it has been created. The stacked basalt columns that rise out of the ground to form the façade were quarried locally at Kilrea from the same lava flows that formed the nearby Causeway.  As a large part of the energy efficient centre is underground, light was introduced into the interior by way of glass panels between the polished basalt columns.  The accessible grassed roof area, which blends seamlessly into the environment, gives a 360° view of the Causeway coastline.  Walks and trails around the site have also been upgraded and access to the Causeway Stones via the footpath remains.

The Centre was constructed by national contractor, Gilbert-Ash.