Two 30m-high kelpie heads will overlook the M9 as part of £41m development

Kelpies by sculptor Andy Scott reared up at Edinburgh Napier University's Craighouse campus
Kelpies by sculptor Andy Scott reared up at Edinburgh Napier University's Craighouse campus
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Visitors will be able to tour a 30-metre high mythical horse’s head overlooking the M9 motorway as part of a £41 million, 300-hectare park project being developed between Falkirk and Grangemouth.

That, at least, is the concept of a Tayside firm of architects, which has won a £1m contract to design a visitor centre at the site, including a lift into one of two “kelpies” being fashioned by sculptor Andy Scott.

Nicoll Russell Studios, with a head office in Broughty Ferry, was picked after a design competition and tender process run by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) for a functional but visionary visitor centre at the Helix Project near Falkirk.

The practice will also produce designs for a public space inside one of the heads of the kelpies, supernatural water horses in Celtic folklore.

The project aims to turn an area of under-used land into a new green space, with a central park and lagoon, a cycle network and canal hub connecting Grangemouth with the Firth of Forth.

It won a £25m lottery grant in 2007, but the construction did not get under way until last year. The project, initially planned to open in 2011, is now expected to complete its first phase by 2013.

Nicoll Russell Studios’ designs were selected by a panel of four judges for their use of light and space as well as the connection between two separate structures, the visitor centre and the kelpie heads.

Brian Moore, director of RIAS Consultancy, said: “The calibre and level of response to the competition was overwhelming.

“Ultimately, we were looking for a practice whose designs best met the objectives of the wider project and which would deliver an architecturally outstanding but realistic proposal within the given budget.”

The designs link the visitor centre to lifts running up inside one of the kelpie heads designed by Scott, whose well-known Heavy Horse sculpture is next to the M8 in Glasgow’s East End.

Andy Baxter, a partner at Nicoll Russell Studios, said: “Winning this design competition against an international field is a superb accolade and we are delighted.”

Mike King, of the               Helix Project, said: “One of our key aims is to create a unique multi-visitor experience that will firmly establish the project as a ‘must see’ destination on the national and international tourism map.”

The Helix Project involves the Helix Trust and won the backing of Falkirk Council, British Waterways Scotland and the Central Scotland Forest Trust.

Its budget is now £9m less than the £50m initially projected.

It aims to establish “a multi-functional outdoor space” to encourage walking, running, cycling and sailing, and boost the local economy.