Company Details
Company NameTonkin Liu
Company Address5
Wilmington Square
London WC1X 0ES
United Kingdom
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Your Contact Details
NameLucia Echevarria
Job TitleStudio Manager
EmailEmail hidden; Javascript is required.
Role of this organisation in the project being enteredFacade Architects
Category - Exterior
    This is a new category that recognises wall and surface design products including decorative, creative and inventive surfaces for the exterior of building including both commercial and residential properties.
    The innovative use of light and the way it is inextricably linked to surfaces, whether it’s the effect the light has on the surrounding surfaces or the materials used to create the light. 
    Public Buildings used by the public for any purpose, such as assembly, education, entertainment, government, healthcare, transport or worship. This will also include civic centres, community centres, libraries, visitor centres, culture, health + wellbeing, faith, education, sports venues and stadia, transport, central + local government, entertainment and event venues.
Entry Details
Name of organisation entering the Awards (if different from above)Tonkin Liu
Role of this organisation in the project being entered (if different from above)Facade Architects
Project/Product Name (written how it should appear)Sundersea Sunderland
Project AddressRiverside Multi Storey Car Park
Farringdon Row,
,Sunderland SR1 3EY
United Kingdom
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Client NameSunderland City Council
Designer/Architect NameTonkin Liu
Contractor NameSir Robert McAlphine Ltd
Project/Product Description

Sundersea is an immersive interactive facade artwork inspired by Sunderland’s historic relationship with the sea. The artwork, made from 3mm anodised aluminium, spans a total length of approximately 200 meters and is 16 meters tall. A perforated veil wrapping the new Riverside Multi Storey car park, Sundersea acts as a gateway to the new Riverside development.

Inspired by etchings of the sea, a diminishing perspective of waveforms is achieved through perforation, creating a play between light and dark, open and closed. From the image of the sea diminishing into the horizon at a large scale to the scale of a single wave whereby illusions of three dimensional form are created, the act of deriving an image through perforation is pushed to the limit, forming a dynamic artwork.

Animated by light from inside and out, the perforate skin acts as a delicate glowing veil, inspired by Sunderland’s industrial heritage and the use of the Davy lamp in mining. The reflective sea catches the colour of the sky and the changing weather as the cars inside are covered in dappled light. At dusk, the sea is brought to life by pairs of eyes, headlights and taillights that move within the glowing sea. The eye of the sea overlooks the land as Galley’s Gill becomes the place to witness the sea of light in the sky. The sea is grounded by two green islands, the cores that act as the focal points for visitor orientation and spearhead biodiversity in the wider landscape.

Sundersea not only reflects Sunderland’s proud sea-side history but also provides a symbolic narrative for Sunderland’s next phase as a smart city, with the cars parked inside it increasingly powered by North Sea wind energy.

Completion - April 2023
Cost of facade - £1.78m (confidential)

Materials Used

The material selected to create the perforated screen was 3mm-thick aluminum, chosen for its unique qualities. As the fabrication process involved each panel to be punched to open percentages ranging between 30-50%, it was imperative that the chosen material could facilitate the recycling of any excess generated during this process. Aluminum’ attribute of infinite recyclability made it the perfect material choice for this particular application.

The perforated aluminum panels were given a clear anodised finish, enhancing the artistic intention of the facade as a dynamic, ever-changing seascape etching amplified by light and darkness. The subtly reflective nature of the anodised finish creates a play between opacity and transparency, seamlessly transitioning between day and night, and reflecting hues of the sky.

Beyond its aesthetic contributions, the anodised finish also delivers practical benefits. It serves as a protective shield against the natural elements and weathering, ensuring that the intended experience of the space would endure over time, preserving the captivating interplay of light, shadow, and color.


The choice of aluminum over alternative materials, such as steel, stemmed from its superior sustainability credentials. Aluminum possesses the remarkable quality of being infinitely recyclable and it boasts a substantially lower carbon footprint when compared to alternative metal cladding options: aluminum's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are one-third of those associated with steel.

The application of anodising to the aluminum panels contributed to their longevity and durability. This process acted as a protective shield, guarding the aluminum against the corrosive effects of external elements, ultimately preserving its infinite recyclability.

The expansive sea of perforated aluminum is framed by two green walls positioned at the two cores of the car park. These walls serve as a habitat for a diverse array of plant species, exceeding 50,000 individual plants, playing a pivotal role in enhancing the biodiversity of the surrounding area, stretching down into Galley's Gill and the River Wear.

Additional Comments

Lighting Design: SEAM
Project Managers: Turner & Townsend
Contractor: Goldbeck
Planning Architects: Ryder Architecture

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