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FCBS combines lean construction and natural ventilation in Sunderland spec office

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The Beam has five floors of Grade A offices above ground-floor retail, a café and restaurant 

The £20 million speculative office building, sited with views across the River Wear, is solely owned by Sunderland City Council. It was originally procured through a joint venture between the council, Carillion and Igloo. Following the collapse of Carillion, Gateshead-based contractor Tolent was brought in to finish the project, which is the first completed building on the Vaux Brewery site, where a new FaulknerBrowns-designed city hall for Sunderland Council is currently being built. 

In Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ design, The Beam’s exposed steel structure is intended to echo the trusses of the nearby Wearmouth Bridge while its horizontal ‘liner’ lines are designed to reflect the ship-building heritage of Sunderland. The building’s structure is a hybrid steel and precast concrete frame which was quick to construct, and designed to be lean in its construction to help minimise its embodied energy as well as ensure the project was cost effective.

The beam copyright daniel hopkinson (16)

The beam copyright daniel hopkinson (16)

Built around a 6 x 12m grid on plan, the office spaces wrap around three sides of a courtyard atrium which is open to the sky and protected from the wind. The atrium brings daylight and fresh air deep into the building’s core, supported by opening windows and generous floor-to-ceiling heights which help the natural ventilation and allow for natural lighting throughout the building. Exposed concrete ceilings provide thermal mass that helps keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer, while externally the perforated, horizontally pleated façade is intended to provide good shading and ventilation.

Natural materials and planting characterise internal public areas. Integrated planters in the upper-level courtyard, with climbing plants running up the full height of the façades, are designed to help improve the air quality. Cycle parking is provided to the back of the building with direct, secure access to ground-floor changing and shower facilities, while heating is from high-efficiency gas-condensing boilers.

The beam copyright daniel hopkinson (12)

The beam copyright daniel hopkinson (12)

Architect’s view

The Beam has been meticulously designed to pay homage to Sunderland’s culture, from the Wearmouth Bridge to the city’s maritime and lighting heritage. The first thing we considered was the position of the building and its proximity to the bridge. The bridge is built on these glorious Victorian structures and, coupled with its heavyweight girders and trusses, this informed how we started to think about the front of the building which looks out over the Keel Line.

Simon Doody, partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

The beam copyright daniel hopkinson (7)

The beam copyright daniel hopkinson (7)

Client’s view

The Beam is a stunning building, and one that will pave the way for the creation of a vibrant new corner of the city centre as the wider Vaux Brewery site is developed. Not only will it provide a huge boost to the local economy, but it will also add to the already impressive offering of Keel Square and the Cultural Quarter.

The Beam is a central pillar to what we’re trying to do in Sunderland, with a £0.5bn City Council investment for the city centre in the 15-year period to 2030, and it’s wonderful to see it finally starting to come to fruition.

Graeme Miller, leader, Sunderland City Council

The beam feilden clegg bradley studios drawings2

The beam feilden clegg bradley studios drawings2

Source: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site March 2017 (until Carillion collapse Jan 2018, restart with Tolent in July 2018)
Completion date June 2019 
Gross internal floor area 7,050m2
Construction cost £20 million
Construction cost per m2 £2,445
Architect Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Client Sunderland City Council
Structural engineer Cundall
M&E consultant Desco
QS Gleeds
Landscape consultant Landscape Projects Ltd
Project manager Siglion / Igloo Regeneration
Main contractor Tolent Construction

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Councils are supposed to have some regard for their stewardship of taxpayer funds.
    Quite who is going to occupy these offices, given the current conditions, is a mystery to me.

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