New Gateway to Petra
Edward Cullinan Architects led a joint venture with Jordanian multidisciplinary firm Bitar Consultants and London based interpretation designers Land Design Studio to redevelop the visitor facilities to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra in Jordan, with funding from the World Bank.

Petra is a magical place for the other-worldliness of its topography and geology alone. The power of this landscape must have inspired the Nabateans to make it their sacred home, carving the rock over many centuries to create their city. This is in direct contrast to the 20th century additions that have arisen piecemeal around the site, to meet the demands of tourism.

Petra, the ancient Nabatean trading city in southern Jordan, and Unesco world heritage site, already attracts hordes of visitors. This strategy, however, supports Unesco's plan to limit visitor numbers to 4000 per day.

The project team's mission statement focuses on maintaining Petra's aura as the lost city- a place to be discovered, rather than promoting it as a glamorised visitor attraction. It is a place that should reveal its secrets almost reluctantly to the visitor to maintain the vital and dramatic element of surprise. Route and view are therefore essential considerations, from the moment visitors park the car, to the moment they pass through the 'Gateway' to the ancient world beyond.

As well as being conceived as part of the landscape- partially sunken, and organised around an amphitheatre (for evening shows and performances), garden and archaeology court- the building is described principally as a threshold. Visitors will approach through a discrete gap between the curving amphitheatre wall and the northern administration block.

Serving as a gathering place for groups, the amphitheatre is a place of contemplation. Visitors then take one of two routes through the garden and court to reach a ramped descent; a vaulted tunnel running parallel to the exit route that returns visitors through the original Petra Gate.

Lead architect Roddy Langmuir says: "What we've tried to do, as I hope you can see in the drawing [shown above right], is make sure that the visitor centre is tucked into the landscape. You could describe it as landscape architecture: it follows the contours of the site; it is faced, and to an extent built from, local stone. The building won't dominate the entrance to Petra - far from it - but will lead visitors gently in and out of the site without in any way damaging it. We're looking to maintain the aura of Petra as a lost city, a place to be discovered. It needs to reveal its secrets almost reluctantly to the visitor to keep the vital dramatic element of surprise."

Design work started in September 2004 and construction is expected to start at the beginning of 2006.


3 photos and 3 drawings