Last edited 19 Feb 2021

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Beacon of Light

Beacon of light.jpg
The Beacon of Light community hub by FaulknerBrowns Architects won the Award for Excellence in Architectural Technology at the CIAT AT Awards 2019.


[edit] Introduction

The first of its kind in the UK, the Beacon of Light is a unique community hub. It consists of engaging and interactive zones that host activities in education, health and fitness, sport and play, and the world of work.

Dubbed a ‘box of dreams’, the building’s stacked arrangement and distinctive colour-changing feature lighting create the appearance of an iconic, shining beacon. It is visible from vantage points around the city, attracting the community and tourists alike. Located next to the Stadium of Light, home of Sunderland AFC, the Beacon of Light provides a vibrant and feel-good environment where people can meet socially, learn and take part in courses to gain skills and qualifications – and where their fascination and love of football will start them on a journey to improve their quality of life.

[edit] Design philosophy

Our design response to the brief was predominantly informed by the tight footprint of the site and the differences between the sporting zones within the brief: the sports hall – a highly conditioned space with particular acoustic and lighting requirements, versus the football barn – a semi exposed area with no requirement for temperature conditioning. This led to the idea of separating these two elements and allowing them to manifest themselves as one heavily-controlled, insulated brick-clad box and one simple, lightweight and translucent polycarbonate lid, with the shared facilities occupying the areas in between and serving both spaces.

The design is both simple and cost effective. The building is made up of a ‘kit of parts’ including brickwork, polycarbonate cladding, curtain-wall glazing and tensile roof fabric. Modularity within the design is key, with the setting-out based on multiples of 300mm which is ultimately manifested from the 60m x 60m footprint. Examples of this can be seen throughout the building. For instance, the brickwork is decorated with a series of 15mm-deep, linear, recessed bands stacked in 900mm vertical increments. The principle has also been used to set out the door and window openings on the external façade (900mm x 4,500mm window openings and 2,700mm-high door openings) as well as the acoustic wall panelling internally within the sports hall (900mm x 2400mm). Another prominent example can be seen within the polycarbonate cladding which is formed out of 18m lengths of 600mm-wide panels.

The use of space within the building creates a sense of welcoming, aspiration and inclusivity. Features that have achieved this, include:

  • The triple-heightstreet’, running through the building, facilitates visibility – engaging the interest of the community and passers-by from the outside and from within, across the multiple spaces, to encourage ‘cross-participation’.
  • A feature staircase constructed from a set of two single-span steel trusses, rises through all floors and is decorated with fun facts, calorie counters and inspirational quotes, encourages people to use it as their main point of circulation, increasing physical activity. This procession up the building is also a physical representation of the power of sport to enrich people’s lives.
  • Careful integration of the school into the building allows access to the rest of the building, while maintaining appropriate safeguarding controls.
  • Unique rooftop 4G pitches under a tensile fabric roof – an exceptional facility, supporting all-weather participation, that is proving hugely popular with footballers and sportspeople of all ages.

From concept stage, a steel-structured solution was favoured, for its ability to deliver greater affordability, flexibility and a lower environmental impact of concrete alternatives (the carbon footprint of the steel frame is 10% lower than an equivalent concrete frame).

The structure and two-way spanning roof truss system, specially designed for efficiency and to minimise waste, has been key in enabling the football barn’s impressive 60m x 60m clear span fabric roof, uninterrupted column-free views across the indoor arena and the single-span feature staircase.

FaulknerBrowns’ decision to use continuous 18m lengths of polycarbonate cladding panels without any intermediate breaks was a unique and unusual demand. However, the manufacturer and supplier were able to satisfy the challenge and the panels were delivered from Europe to site on flat bed transportation, ensuring that they arrived in one piece and in pristine condition. It was imperative that the panels were of equal number and spacing to all four sides of the lid and that the width of the ‘letter box’ opening to the south façade was an absolute multiple of the panel width of 600mm, ensuring no cut panels to the sides. Working alongside the manufacturer and contractor, we were able to achieve this through rigorous setting-out exercises, taking into consideration tolerances and allowances for ‘creep’ along each façade.

The translucency of the polycarbonate cladding and tensile roof fabric allows natural light to enrich the indoor environment, creating a sense of user wellbeing. A set of discreet PPC aluminium louvres wrap around the underside of the triangular-edged roof structure and utilises passive measures, assisting in the natural ventilation of the football barn, delivering year-round comfort without increasing carbon emissions, and resulting in energy-saving cost efficiencies. Automatically-controlled daylight dimming and presence-detecting lighting also maximise energy efficiency and limit carbon emissions throughout the building.

Since opening in June 2018, the Centre is already engaging traditionally ‘hard to reach’ individuals within its local communities – including people with physical disabilities and learning difficulties, unemployed adults, young people not in employment, education or training, and those disengaged from mainstream education. It is a destination that inspires people to achieve and a place that the community can be truly proud of.

[edit] Judges’ comments

The Beacon of Light is a simple design solution with a unique approach, which is innovative with use of technology and materials. It is designed to minimise the necessity for energy use and, with careful positioning in the design, achieves a reduction in energy loss. A fine attention to detail ensures minimum waste, a great use of space and effective buildability. The Beacon of Light is a very welcoming structure, socially positioned in a regenerated area for all those in the community, enabling support and creating opportunities. A fantastic scheme which demonstrates the very best in architectural technology with a coordinated design-team approach and as such, is an outstanding winner of the 2019 Award for Excellence in Architectural Technology.

[edit] About this article

This article was written by FaulknerBrowns Architects and was provided by the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT). It was previously published in its AT Journal (Issue 131 Autumn 2019) and can be accessed HERE.

Other articles by the CIAT on Designing Buildings Wiki can be accessed HERE.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki


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