The story of the Hastings Pier is an improbable one. Located in Hastings – a stone’s throw away from the battlefield that defined English history – the pier was first opened to the promenading public in 1872. For decades the structure, an exuberant array of Victorian-era decoration, entertained seaside crowds but by the new millennium had fallen out of disrepair. In 2008 the pier was closed – a closure that became seemingly irreversible when, two years later, it burnt down.
When London practice dRMM won the competition to reimagine the structure, they took it as an opportunity to not just relive the glory days but work with the public to make a “pier for the people.” Their careful efforts won them the 2017 Stirling Prize and marked a landmark moment in regenerative architecture. In his Stirling Prize citation for the project, RIBA President Ben Derbyshire described it as “…a masterpiece in regeneration and inspiration. The architects and local community have transformed a neglected wreck into a stunning, flexible new pier to delight and inspire visitors and local people alike.”
The Hastings Pier today is a far cry from it’s 19th century predecessor. Gone is the ornament, gone are the strings of lights, gone is the Moorish pavilion that used to cap the promenade. The pier now is an exercise in restraint and subtle detail, culminating in a wide open expanse at the top that has earned it the nickname “The Plank.”
“You expect a pier to be covered in stuff, instead you have a free space and no buildings,” says Alex de Rijke, cofounder of and the ‘dR’ behind dRRM. “The new pier is designed as an enormous, free, public platform over the sea – inspiring temporary installations and events across a variety of scales. 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.”
The flexibility of the new structure allows the pier to play host to a multitude of events, from traditional festival fare more serious gatherings. When not in official use, the pier is an awesome expanse of weathered timber, a fitting complement to the powerful view it affords.
Creating the open lookout point required the designers to relocate the traditional pier pavilion from the top of the structure to the center. The cross-laminated timber structure is clad in reclaimed decking and surrounded by reclaimed deck furniture (designed in an inventive collaboration by dRRM and Hastings & Bexhill Wood Recycling.)
For all the pier’s initial success, it’s not been without controversy. This past summer, plans were announced for the sale of the structure to the private owner – a sale that rankles given the public’s unusually active role in the conception, design, and construction of the pier. Fate seems, yet again, uncertain.
But regardless of owner or future use, it will forever remain a milestone in architecture. It sets a notable standard for how architects can engage with not only their clients, but the future users of their projects. Compared to the local pride it has inspired, a Stirling citation is just icing on the cake.