2017 Stirling Prize Goes to dRMM’s Hastings Pier

The London-based firm restored a burned-down 1872 Victorian pier for a diverse array of public uses.

2017 Stirling Prize dRMM Hastings Pier
The dRMM-designed Hastings Pier on the South Coast of England in East Sussex has been awarded the 2017 Stirling Prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Courtesy Francesco Montaguti

In early October, seven years ago, Hastings pier was all but wiped from the shoreline. The 138-year-old pier, which had been closed since 2006 due to safety reasons, was the subject of an arson attack which destroyed most of it, including a bandstand, kiosks, and shops, among other attractions. In the aftermath, all that remained was the charred remnants the pier’s structure, notably the cast iron pillars that are sunk into the seabed.

Not wasting anytime, Hastings Pier Charity and White Rock Trust invited architects to submit ideas for a new pier less than a week after the fire.

Alex de Rijke, Sadie Morgan, and Philip Marsh of dRMM proposed a radically different pier: spacious and open, without a gimmicky parade of shops and no trademark attraction at the end. According to a statement from de Rijke, it was designed as an “enormous, free, public platform over the sea.”

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From the street, the pier’s extremely wide berth swallows visitors, with children making the most of this by racing along the wood decking on scooters, skateboards, and on foot, unperturbed by the sea below.

Immediately to the right is a modest, slightly crescent-shaped restaurant that serves typical British coastal cuisine, with this heritage reinforced by subtle contemporary take on Victorian styling. Further on resides a small series of colorful beach huts. These can be rented; most are used in the summer to sell food and drinks.

2017 RIBA Stirling Prize dRMM Hastings Pier
Courtesy Jason Sayer

The trio’s design also made extensive use of what had been left by the fire, deploying salvaged wood, arranged as zig-zagging boards, to clad a visitor center found in the pier’s narrower middle. Today, this center hosts events and exhibitions throughout the year, including a permanent archival display where visitors can submit their memories of the old pier in the form of pictures and messages.

The center’s roof, however, is the pier’s main attraction. Accessed by wooden steps, the raised platform provides seating and ocean vistas, all dramatized by a glass balustrade that amplifies the sense of openness on the pier.

On an overcast October afternoon—dreary and cold by continental European and American standards—the pier was still attracting a reasonable number of people, mostly couples, anglers, and children. Despite lacking the customary gaudiness of flashing lights and whirring arcade machines, the conservatively-designed project very much appeals to children. The school holidays are reportedly much busier, regardless of the season. “Half-term was manic,” one of the volunteer staff told Metropolis. Shonagh, a mother of one, said the pier was a “beautiful space for kids,” adding, “I think it’s wonderful that it’s different.”

2017 RIBA Stirling Prize dRMM Hastings Pier
Courtesy James Robertshaw

The pier’s character and integrity were further maintained by the restoration and repair of the cast iron structure—something that took a hefty chunk of the project’s budget. This allowed the new building to rest on the original iron framework and meant the pier’s position between the Hastings town center and nearby St. Leonards-on-Sea could be kept as well. The old structure can be seen on occasion when walking along the pier, its open-ended ironwork poking out from the side, but it is most notable visible at the pier’s end where its left exposed by the wood deck.

The pier’s end also holds some standard attractions, though they usually come in the form of physical recreation activities and various events, from open-air cinemas to concerts, weddings, and flea markets.

“This space offered more potential than an ‘iconic’ building on the end of the pier, and demonstrates the evolving role of the architect as an agent for change,” said de Rijke. The 2017 Stirling Prize judges echoed this, lauding the project as one “that has evolved the idea of what architecture is and what architects should do.”

Speaking of the Stirling Prize award, de Rijke added, “all of the many people who worked on this long project are grateful to have received the prize—and proud of achieving the apparently impossible.”

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