Roker Pier and Lighthouse Awards Shortlisting - March 2018

30th March 2018

We’re delighted that the RIBA North East and Constructing Excellence North East have shortlisted Roker Pier and Lighthouse in their 2018 awards for Conservation and Building of the Year.

The complex of tunnel, pier and lighthouse is of exceptional significance and represents the pinnacle of Victorian ingenuity, power of convictions and industry.

Completed in 1904 and manned by a shore based crew who accessed the lighthouse by tunnel within the pier in bad weather. The entrance was covered by a little shed, now long lost and replaced by a manhole cover.

The fabric had taken a battering by the sea and constraints in maintenance left Roker Pier in poor condition. Anti-social behaviour, graffiti, fires, break-ins and the theft of metals meant the lighthouse was stripped out, run down and in unvisitable condition. The pier deck was poor, original railings lost and the tunnel leaked.

Its plight and uniqueness was recognised and in 2014, with a HLF grant & Sunderland City Council funding, it saw the start of a four year restoration and conservation project of the lighthouse, tunnel and return of skylights and the creation of a new tunnel entrance building for visitors by BBA.  Other works by SCC over recent time were the lantern repair, replacement of the pier deck surface and reinstatement of original railings.

Designed to be an assembly point for tunnel tours and vantage point to view the lighthouse, the tunnel entrance building is a cantileverd granite clad structure with glazed sides and stairs down to the tunnel.  Its plan shape was defined by the space available and the look of the building is purposefully bold- to reflect the original design intention of the strength and ambition of the Pier and Lighthouse. It also bookends the tunnel by having a structure at both ends and this completes the intention of the original design. It creates a ‘portal’ into the complex.

We added skylights to the tunnel (the originals had failed early and filled in), unblocked and repaired the drainage but kept all the original features of old service pipes and gas light fittings.

Building on the work of the earlier lantern repair (it is still a functioning lighthouse), we took what was left of the floors below that and conserved the remains of the stripped out shell of the building and repaired windows, flooring and wall tiles. We analysed the paint for colour and material, redecorated and reinstated timber panelling and made new doors. The stair brass railings were returned, with some new lighting and background heating. The basement was a ramshackle affair but we didn’t over restore it. We kept a lot of the poor finishes and rusty artefacts in the room, because it adds to the experience when exiting the tunnel before going up to the restored rooms above. We also kept the lighting purposefully subdued, so not to dazzle but also to enhance the slight sense of dereliction.

The nature of the complex doesn't enable wheel chair users to visit underground, so we developed a computer generated walk through the tunnel and lighthouse. Tour guides will enable chair users to visit above ground and they can be assisted into the ground floor of the lighthouse.

The project was not just an exercise in conservation and restoration but more importantly, for its longer term future, to bring the complex back to life, as a creditable and unique visitor attraction, open to visit for the first time in its history.

Image by David Allan

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