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Prepared to last: Wheelabrator Impact shot peened the steel surfaces of Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre


The Visitor Centre at Giant Causeway in Northern Ireland opened in July 2012. It is a stunning building for which Wheelabrator Impact delivered the majority of the surface finishing. Shot peening delivers a finish that will stand the test of time without further maintenance but will also withstand the challenge of the wet salty air of its coastal location.

Company Profile

The new visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is a bold architectural design that mirrors the dramatic basalt formations of the Causeway with its raw and minimalist aesthetic. To realise the architects’ vision of “quiet monumentality”, shot peened steel surfaces played a key role in the composition.

A pure design for raw nature

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is a natural wonder – an area of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, most of which have a distinct hexagonal shape and are the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.

The tops of the columns, some up to 12 metres high, form stepping stones that lead from the foot of the cliff into the sea. The most visited attraction in Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway’s new visitor centre opened in July 2012 and is now set to become a landmark in its own right thanks to its stunning architecture. The Centre was designed by the leading architects Heneghan Peng. The architects’ vision was to craft a building that nestles into the landscape, mirroring the bold material and geometric lines of the Causeway itself.

The panel that awarded Heneghan Peng the project described the winning design as “exuding simple and quiet monumentality”.

Inside, the building is dominated by polished concrete, glass, steel and oak – all crafted with absolute precision. The result is a composition that looks simple and clean, yet was full of technical challenges.


Raw stainless steel, exposed to nature

Wheelabrator Impact met with the architects at the design stage to advise on specification and treatment needed for this application – especially considering the environment of the object in situ. We worked closely with a number of companies on the project, to marry an ambitious aesthetic vision with what is technically possible.

One of these challenges was the creation of a raw stainless steel finish on a number of dominant features across the open building – which had to be engineered to withstand the salty wet air of its coastal location. The most striking of these steel objects is a 5 metre high, 1.5 metre wide steel column in the entrance area of the centre. Half-exposed to the weather, it marks one end of a long glazed slit in the ceiling through which light pours in on the sculpture-like steel structure. Made up of six sheets, each 30mm thick and 5 metres long, the column weighs three tonnes and is made of duplex stainless steel, a material most commonly used for offshore structures due to its extreme-weatherproof qualities. The shot peening process delivers a lustre finish with a reflectivity that can be subtly varied to suit the individual environment. The process can also prevent the initiation of pitting corrosion, a huge benefit in the hostile saltwater environment.

Another stainless steel surface shot-peened for the Centre was steel wall cladding in two areas of high traffic and exposure to open air, for which softer, cold-rolled steel in much thinner sheets could be specified. But here too, a uniform and even finish across a large area was key.

The visually stunning roof top of the Centre, which blends into the environment, is also framed by the balustrades which sit atop of the basalt columns, again, these stainless steel items needed to be shot peened in order to withstand the salt water exposure of the Irish Sea.


A technically challenging shot peening project

Wheelabrator Impact delivered the majority of the surface finishing for the Centre. Durability and straightforward maintenance were key requirements for the client, and shot peening delivers a finish that will stand the test of time without further maintenance apart from cleaning with soap and water.


With large flat areas of material such as the stainless steel column and cladding sheets fitted at the Causeway, it is very important that the shot-peened finish is even and consistent right across the sheet. To achieve this the shot-peening process has to be carried out in an automated environment.

Wheelabrator Impact use the highest standard multi-functional automation to achieve the necessary standard of process control. The result is the extremely even lustre you can see across large sections of the architectural sculptures.

Comment from Tony Grammauro, General Manager, Wheelabrator Impact: “As one of the few shot-peening experts in the UK who can handle objects of this size and to this specification, Wheelabrator Impact provided advice and expertise from the initial discussions with the architects. We have been involved in this project for nearly two years prior to completion in July 2012. We have worked with different lead parties as a key partner in achieving the architect’s vision. We are delighted that the level of detail and care that has gone into all the deliverables can now be enjoyed by all the visitors to this World Heritage Site.”