New Sunderland landmark on Vaux site to be unveiled to the public today

A symbolic new landmark that will stand at the tip of Sunderland's Keel Line will be unveiled to the public at a consultation event today.

Tuesday, 13th December 2016, 8:36 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 12:43 pm
Siglion chief executive John Seager.

The Launch – a giant metal structure that will project over the cliff-edge of the Vaux site and span down onto land by the riverside – will create an instantly recognisable landmark that will also become a focal point for activities and events.

The new construction, which is being proposed by Siglion, will go on display at a public event in Keel Square, currently the focal point of the city’s Christmas programme.

The Launch, which will create a promontory that will overhang the cliff-edge and act as a viewing platform out over the river, has been developed by Siglion, working with designers and architects on behalf of Sunderland City Council.

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It is part of a broader programme, that will see the Vaux site – which has stood empty for two decades – brought back to life, with work on the first phase also getting underway this week.

John Seager, chief executive of Siglion, said: “We wanted to create a promontory that would be iconic.

“Something that would be a statement of our ambition for this city.

“We did not want to settle for anything less than stunning – a jaw-dropping structure that would reinvigorate the riverside and create a place that people want to see and enjoy.

“The feedback we have had so far has been fantastic.

“The structure we are proposing is unlike anything people will have seen before.

“We have a huge level of ambition about the kind of place we can create at the Vaux site, and that is one that is true to the history and heritage of the city, but that creates an aspirational place – a place that Sunderland can be proud of.

“The Launch is an important piece in that jigsaw.”

Initial ideas for The Launch were developed in the summer, when Siglion co-ordinated a design competition that brought together engineer-led design teams – a collaboration between artists and engineers.

More than 50 artists and art-practitioners were invited to take part, with the winning design – a tribute to shipbuilding in Sunderland – selected in October.

The structure will stand 25m tall – five floors high – and 21m wide, and will be made from a fabricated steel plate box girder and forged steel.

It will allow the public to make their way from the Vaux site down to the South Bank of the river, attracting more footfall to an area that is currently under-utilised.

The Launch has been designed to echo the construction of a ship, with the shape and scaffolding effect a tribute to the city’s industrial past.

It also features a giant pendulum, with two counterbalancing tanks each holding a tonne of water, that will trigger a swinging movement, designed to mirror the motion of the scores of champagne bottles that would have traditionally been broken against the bow of each new ship built in the city, christening them for good luck and safe travels.

The proposal has been shared with Sunderland’s Youth Parliament, who have given their feedback on the designs and come up with further ideas about what they would like to see happen around the site when it is complete.

Liam Christopher Ritchie, 16, who is also a volunteer at Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade, said: “A lot of the buildings in Sunderland haven’t really been integrated with the people of Sunderland before construction so it is wonderful that we are able to add our own twist and mark to what we are building, because essentially, it is our city.

“The structure is just like nothing else, so people are just going to come to see it. It’s so different.

“I have never seen anything like it and I don’t think I am going to see anything that’s going to compare to it.”

The public will have the chance to have their first sight of The Launch at the event today in Keel Square, which will run from 1pm until 7pm.

A giant screen will display a video of how The Launch will look, as well as people’s memories from the shipyards, and how important it is for the city to remember its proud past.

The video will run twice per hour, and the team from Siglion will be on hand, in a marquee close to the ice rink, to take feedback and discuss the proposal in more detail.

If planning permission is given, work on The Launch will be completed by 2018.

Coun Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The city’s physical infrastructure – iconic places like this – are absolutely critical to the long-term prosperity of Sunderland, so whatever the conditions we are operating in, we must not lose sight of the need to invest in our city; the need to define what kind of place we want Sunderland to be.

“The Launch is a symbol of the city’s pride in its past, but also in its hope for the future.

“We have a huge amount planned in Sunderland in 2018, from the opening of the new Wear Crossing to the arrival of the Tall Ships and the hundreds of thousands of people that event will bring to the city.

“This is an opportunity for us to welcome them with a physical environment that shows just how bright Sunderland’s future is.”

The event is open to any member of the public and people do not need to pre-book to attend.