PIER OF THE YEAR AND NOW the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Award 2017 – the accolades just keep coming for Hastings Pier. A community-led project, designed and restored by London-based architects dRMM (Alex de Rijke, Philip Marsh and Sadie Morgan), the pier is, in RIBA president Ben Derbyshire’s words, a ‘masterpiece of regeneration and inspiration’.

From its opening, in 1872, Hastings Pier garnered much attention. Built by master engineer Eugenius Birch, it was intended to be the ultimate pleasure pier – or as the Earl of Granville put it ‘a peerless pier … a pier without a peer’. Visitors loved it: in its first week, 24,000 people came to view the oriental-style pavilion and enjoy such attractions as an orchestra, music hall stars and a shooting range. Over the next decades, it continued to draw visitors, rolling with the times to attract new custom through staging big name acts like The Who and The Sex Pistols. Such was its importance that Syd Barrett chose to play his last gig with Pink Floyd there. By the 1980s, however, the Golden Age of the Pier was coming to an end and offshore ownership, neglect and lack of investment over the subsequent years contributed to its closure in 2008. Two years later, disaster struck: a fire devastated the pier.

By 2010, Hastings Pier was a lost paradise; overdeveloped and dangerously obsolete, then burnt,’ comments Alex de Rijke, dRMM’s founding director. ‘It was rescued by a collaboration of local determination and architectural lateral thinking. Most of the [£11.4m] Lottery-funded budget went into repairing and strengthening the sea structure and new deck. The modest buildings provided above deck are glass and engineered timber, featuring cladding and furniture made from recycling the old pier decking that survived the fire. Hastings and St Leonards now have a spectacular pier; a free-access public space for the pleasure of “walking on water”, and a civic space transformed by changing weather and events.’


The raised structure on Hastings Pier is clad in reclaimed planks from the original pier.


De Rijke says the design is about ‘sky, light, the sound of the sea. It’s about making new from old – embodied memory and future identity.’ More than that though, the Pier is a labour of love: a credit to the support, determination and collaboration of a great many Hastings’ and St Leonards’ residents who wanted to save it. And the community is literally invested in it: around £6,000 of the £14.2m needed for the pier’s regeneration was raised through 3,000 investors purchasing shares, making them part owners of this award-winning structure.

Whatever one thinks about the pier, it is a striking piece of architecture and one that is already bringing much-deserved attention to Hastings and St Leonards. Yet one hopes it will also bring much-needed business, tourism and financial and economic opportunities to the area. Thus, while the RIBA Stirling Prize is unarguably a win for dRMM, it has the potential to be a huge win for the local community, too – and that is something which is truly worth celebrating.


Acknowledgements: Photo credit, copyright Alex de Rijke 2017. A version of this article appears in HIP, 10 November 2017 issue.

Also of interest:Everything comes from the Egg: Stephen Turner’s vision‘; ‘The imaginary becomes real – In the Light of Surrealism #2 and Inverse Reflection‘; ‘More than just words – The Jane Eyre Project‘; The hyper-reality of Marcus Harvey’s world – Inselaffe‘; Farley Farm House, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose’s house and the home of the Lee Miller archive.

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