The National Glass Centre Sunderland Gollifer Associates
Gollifer Associates

The National Glass Centre, Sunderland

The site is on the north bank of the river Wear, known as St. Peter’s Riverside – on what was until recently former shipyards but is now dominated by the new Sunderland University campus. Most of the original features of the site had been removed and the river’s edge had been defined with a stone revetment.

The project won lottery funding to become one of the major projects of the Millennium for the north east.

Sunderland has an ancient association with glassmaking. This started in 7AD when glassmaking was first introduced St. Peter’s monastery when glassmakers from Gaul taught local people the craft. Although it has not been continuously associated with the city since, glass has been a prominent industry within the city for the last 300 years and currently Sunderland is the home to major producers.

The client identified a combination of uses which were designed to provide both large scale glass production space and small scale space for individual glass makers and researchers. The centre was designed to be a resource that would act as a focus for the local industry and for glass making nationwide. On the public side there was a recognition of a local interest in the industry and an opportunity to allow the public a closer view via a prescribed route through the glass making arenas.

The architecture emerges from the land rather than being imposed upon it like an object. From the point of arrival at the top of the site the building is almost unseen. All that is visible are the canopies, the ventilation towers and chimneys of the factory, which are sculptural objects in an artificial landscape.

The silver colour fitted in with the other materials being used and with the general policy of using “natural” finishes.

The glass roof lets light into the broad plan of the building -and the broad plan itself is generated by the decision to house all the working space at ground level. It also allows visitors to experience glass in a particularly intense way by walking upon it.

What is normally an unused, or at least uninhabited area of a building, thus becomes fully accessible -giving a distinctive building form. Gollifer Langston say

steel -the material which really created the possibility of glass in this kind of scale -is an essential part of the character of the building, with its expressed industrial language, and gives an energy to the spaces beneath the calm roof plane.
Very little of the structure is hidden and much of the workings and processes are on view. In some cases, such as the front facade, elements are dissected and pulled apart – a kind of unveiling of the real and another level of transparency.

Gollifer Langston chose hot dip galvanizing for several reasons:

The silver colour fitted in with the other materials being used and with the general policy of using “natural” finishes. Galvanizing was competitive on an initial cost basis as well as providing low maintenance protection for the future.”

This is a major new public building that exploits the use of steel and glass to give a light appearance. All the external stairs, ramps, walkways and canopies, which are a fundamental part of the architecture, are constructed of galvanized steel.

This light, refreshing design demonstrates the possibilities of steel and glass.

Images © Tim Soar

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