The Roker Pods, constructed by Millimetre, Brighton grew out of a response to the unique natural and industrial heritage of Roker, Sunderland and it’s coastline’s cannonball rock formations.

Top image: The Roker Pods, designed by Nicholson Bastik (Art Gene) being constructed by Millimetre, Brighton

Roker Pods

We were fortunate to be able to work with Marianne Heaslip, one of Art Gene’s Associate Architects; (Urbed Architects Manchester) who worked with us to take our original concept designs through to RIBA stage D. Marianne brought a wealth of knowledge to the project particularly with regard to renewables and off-grid technologies. Peter Horrocks produced a series of excellent visualisations which helped to build the client’s confidence in the project. These were based on the initial concept drawings created by Stuart Bastik (see bottom of page). The project is managed by Grit and Pearl on behalf of Sunderland City Council.

Through a creative consultation process, with stakeholders and the Roker community the precise requirements of the project developed. The resulting three movable pods aim to fulfill a range of functions including: education, shower, performance, cafe, information and act as viewing spaces for the coastline. Their multi-functional nature allows for different uses to be tested over time, informing possible future developments.

Artist’s Concept Design Statement 2009

The Roker Pods have grown out of a response to the unique natural and industrial heritage of Sunderland’s coastline.

We were immediately drawn to the formations of rare ‘cannonball rocks’ which spill from the cliffs onto the beach and saw them as an ideal starting point for the development of a unique multi-functional design solution capable of revitalising and enhancing interest in Roker as a 21st century resort.

We felt it was essential that any new structures should aspire to the highest contemporary design standards and have therefore developed our concept designs with a zero carbon aspiration in mind. We have used materials and an aesthetic which reflects the heritage of the site and adjacent marine industries. The pods are constructed with renewable timber and construction is informed by ship building technologies to provide a robust weather resistant surface which will ultimately be enhanced by the inevitable weathering which occurs beside such turbulent seas.

The project envisaged at this time will create a pilot series of mobile multi-functional eco-pods which can be added to sustainably over time as the resort further develops. We felt that the pods should populate the coastline in the same way that people do: moving up and down the promenade and spilling onto the beach; and like a crowd constantly changing in their distribution and the activities they are ‘engaged’ in.

“Excuse me could you tell me where the showers are?” “Err… Well I knew where they were last week but… Oh yes there they are over there next to the pier today”

Image gallery below:
The Roker Pods being constructed by Millimetre
 Roker Pods (off grid cafe pod).
Image by Peter Horrocks, after drawings by Stuart Bastik
CGI rendering of the Roker Pods demonstrating their flexibility.
Image by Peter Horrocks, after drawings by Stuart Bastik

We believe that one way to keep a place interesting, current and critically ‘in use’ is to keep it changing, growing and developing in response to an evolving need, a special event or function: making it, in some sense ‘new’ on each visit. Mobile, multi-functional, multipurpose, off grid, modular, amphibious, natural, and ecological were some of our key watch-words in developing the concept designs. We see the structures as an ‘event’ in and of themselves: attracting visitors to the Roker Coastline.

Signage across the site will feature standardised fonts and colours creating a sense of continuity across the sea front.

The concept pods are envisaged as watertight structures using ship-building technologies and will therefore be adaptable for use as floating buoy cafe’s or ‘islands’ with glass bottoms for recreational divers and swimmers and contemporary bathing machines with lowering pontoons.

One concept for possible future development was a very slow moving solar powered, articulated mobile restaurant which over the course of a meal provides changing views along the promenade.

The initial pods aim to provide a hint of a possible future: one which works with the environment to create facilities which enhance well being, promote new lifestyles and develop local cultures and economies.

By night the pods provide illuminations: sparkling with LED’s inserted into the timber surface of the spheres. The aim is to dispose of the need for high level on-grid sodium street-lighting and generate all the power that is needed to create a more intimate ambiance, evocative of perhaps warmer climes, within the North of England. This will extend the ‘life’ of the resort into the evenings where we envision the growth of street cafe bars, board walks and restaurants populated by a diverse population including families who have spent the day enjoying a range of activities facilitated by the Roker Pods.

The pods are moved by means of an available tractor which can easily move them along the promenade and onto the beach for study sessions with groups beside the rock pools.

We hope they help to make a contribution to a renaissance in British Holidays and recreation along our coastline; changing perceptions of what it offers and can be. Roker could reinvent itself and once again become a much needed provider of mass access to the natural environment; a breathing space on the city‘s doorstep.

The pods give access to contemporary design and will hopefully help promote desirability around it and demystify the use of off grid technologies including wind turbines and solar panels.

We envisage a future Roker renowned as a zero carbon study centre hosting conferences which place it and Sunderland firmly on the world stage for forward thinking and innovation in sustainable resorts development.

Stuart Bastik, 2009

Constructing the Shells 2012

The appointed main contractor Millimetre began the build in a large specially hired farmyard barn which was large enough to accommodate the pods during construction. The farm situated outside Brighton where Millimetre‘s studio workshops are located is an interesting yet very cold (unheated) space to undertake such precise work. The team of highly skilled designer makers steam bent the green oak boards and gradually fitted them over a stainless steel frame wrapped around the waterproof GRP core.


The Roker Pods Journey

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Image gallery below:
The Roker Pods being constructed by Millimetre
Interior: Roker Pods (off grid cafe pod)
CGI rendering of The Roker Pods, including renewable energy harnessing technology.
Image by Peter Horrocks, after drawings by Stuart Bastik
Images below (footer):
The Roker Pods being constructed by Millimetre

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