Beacon of Light
FaulknerBrowns Architects

The first of its kind in the UK, the Beacon of Light is a unique community hub. It consists of four 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 creates the appearance of a shining beacon. It is visible from vantage points around the city of Sunderland, attracting the community and tourists alike. It provides a vibrant, feel-good environment where people can meet socially, learn and take part in courses to gain skills and qualifications. 

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. The use of space within the building creates a sense of welcoming, aspiration and inclusivity. Features that have achieved this include the triple-height 'street', running through the building, which 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'. 

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 decision to use continuous 18 metre 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 they arrived in pristine condition. The translucency of the cladding and tensile roof fabric allows natural light to enrich the indoor environment, creating a sense of user wellbeing. 

Since opening in June 2018, the Centre is already engaging traditionally 'hard to reach' individuals within its local communities – including people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, unemployed adults 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.


Judges' comments

The Beacon of Light is a simple design solution with a unique approach, which is innovative with its use of technology and materials. It is designed to minimise 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. It is 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.