A fire has ripped through Eastbourne pier, leaving only a metal skeleton
According to the AJ’s sister title Construction News, the 144-year-old structure was evacuated after a fire was discovered in a wall panel of an arcade yesterday evening (30 July).
About 80 firefighters tackled the blaze which ravaged the pier’s main building.
The Victorian pier was designed by Eugenius Birch and officially opened in 1870.
An English Heritage (EH) review of the site in 2009 resulted in the pier being upgraded to Grade II*.
A spokeswoman for EH said: ‘As a Grade II* listed building, Eastbourne pier is amongst the most important of its kind in the country and we will do everything we can to support its stabilisation after the fire and its subsequent restoration.
‘Piers are such a distinctive part of the English seaside but we cannot take it for granted that future generations will be able to take the same pleasure in them as we have done. That’s why English Heritage is so keen to use our expertise to support the owners of Eastbourne Pier in its full repair after this distressing fire.’
A spokesman for SAVE Britain’s Heritage said, given the quality of the struture, that a ‘full restoration scheme’ was needed.
He said : ‘Eastbourne can be counted among the very best piers in the country and probably the best surviving example by Birch. It is devastatingly sad to see it in such a condition.
‘Credit must be given to the emergency services for managing to contain the fire and save the majority of the structure. Once the extent of the damage has been assessed it is vital that temporary works are carried out to secure the structure in the short term and to prevent any further decay. Plans must then be prepared and implemented for a full a restoration scheme, which will have huge support, locally and nationally.’
dRMM won a design competition to overhaul Hastings Pier shortly before it was almost completely destroyed by fire. Alex de Rijke of the studio said: ‘Hastings Pier had become full of poor quality shacks, it was like a shanty town of commerce. Although it did also destroy a very well loved theatre the fire it cleared the decks to create the circumstances for a new pier that will be part a restoration and part new.’
He continued: ‘With piers it seems they need to be redefined because they are being constantly redefined by the weather. They are always changing. It is not anything to be afraid of.’
Competition organiser Malcolm Reading said: ‘It’s a tragedy when anything this valued is destroyed by fire or incident. The automatic reaction from the heart is that it must be rebuilt faithfully. But what does this actually mean? The reality is that it will be rebuilt using modern materials, techniques and standards.’
He continued: ‘These piers were as much a social as architectural phenomenon, with a rich history of stories and events, rooted in a local context. Why not a competition to replace the ruined pier – but one that responds to new pattern of use and opportunity in the community, not simply a structural re-interpretation of what used to be there.’
Dominic Eaton, director at Stride Treglown, said: ‘It’s a real shame that this local landmark has been destroyed. Although we should be thankful that there was no loss of life or serious injuries.’
Commenting on the next steps forward, he said: ‘If the structure can be reused, then this could form part of the brief for rebuilding. However, I believe in principle this is an opportunity for an imaginative reconstruction.’
He continued: ‘I would never advocate a faithful reconstruction, because even if it was possible to do it well, it would seem to me to be a lost opportunity. The key is to allocate a proper budget so that the original pier can be replaced with something better and set up a design competition to source the best, most innovative solution.
‘Like most things, if done properly, out of an unfortunate situation, a hugely successful outcome can be achieved.’
Scott Brownrigg chief executive Darren Comber said: ‘A sad start to the day to see yet another pier destroyed by fire. Piers not only provide exceptional opportunities for communities to engage with visitors to seaside resorts, but also they also provide the catalyst for the engagement of small and diverse businesses that would otherwise struggle to survive in town centre environments.’
He continued: ‘As a practice we were involved in the regeneration of the pier at Weston-Super-Mare and the challenge was not primarily architectural, but financial to ensure any sense of economic viability. Local Authorities need to recognise the significant role piers play, and in turn provide investment to assist in their future sustainability or more devastation like this is inevitable. Invariably they are poorly maintained and many become little more than gaming arcades and low quality food venues.
‘There is a need for them to become destinations in their own right, and a competition to seek ideas across the entire development and retail community would seem timely, to rebrand the pier and ensure they once again become a valuable asset for everyone. Santa Monica pier is a great example of how this can be achieved.’