dRMM has won this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize with its revamp of Hastings Pier – a ’masterpiece of regeneration’ which has ’evolved the idea of what architecture is and what architects should do’
The £14.2 million project, which was also the bookmakers’ runaway favourite and the clear winner of the public poll, was chosen ahead of finalist schemes by Groupwork + Amin Taha, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Baynes and Mitchell Architects, 6a Architects and Reiach an Hall and Michael Laird Architects.
The London-based practice was praised by the Stirling Prize judges for ’campaigning, galvanising and organising local support’ and being ‘utterly pivotal’ in the restoration-led overhaul of the dilapidated 145-year-old landmark in the English Channel.
It is third time lucky for dRMM, having been nominated twice before – in 2010 with its Clapham Manor School and in 2016 for its contentious Trafalgar Place housing scheme.
The Hastings project, described by the judging panel as an exemplar of ’subtle, effortless design’, included the painstaking restoration and strengthening the pier’s 19th-century structural iron work which had suffered from years of neglect, storm and fire damage.
Hastings Pier is a masterpiece of regeneration and inspiration
The practice transformed the surviving Victorian Pavilion into an open plan, glazed café-bar and the practice added a timber-clad visitor centre with a viewing deck on its roof.
Meanwhile the pier deck has been rebuilt as a vast, uninterrupted flexible expanse for large-scale concerts, markets and public gatherings.
RIBA president and jury chair Ben Derbyshire said: ’Hastings Pier is a masterpiece of 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.
’The architects have used timber throughout the project, much of it reclaimed from the original pier: the visitor centre makes a feature of its scorched wood cladding. The reclaimed timber has also been used to create the pier’s striking new furniture, manufactured locally as part of an employment initiative.
‘I am delighted to award the 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize to the people’s pier.’
The AJ’s verdict
With a jury including Anupama Kundoo and Peter St John it seemed almost certain that an architecture celebrating a high level of material craft would prevail in this year’s Stirling Prize: not the grand iconic gestures that fell out of favour after the MAXXI’s win in 2010, but something from the trend for the understated and subtle that we have seen so much of recently and that dominated this year’s shortlist.
Instead, it went to the bookies’ consistent favourite, a project that was chidingly referred to as ‘the plank’ when it first opened on account of its sparsity. There is no ‘architecture with a capital A’ here, and little for fans of architectural form-making to get excited about. Rather, it is a hugely encouraging gesture that sees the RIBA throwing its weight behind a kind of practice that brings the architect down to earth, out of the realm of lofty concepts and expensive private commissions and into a decidedly public one, where the profession is merely one among many working in tandem towards some a greater communal goal.
So this year the Stirling Prize belongs just as much to dRMM as it does to Eugenius Birch and his team of workers who drilled piles into the fossilised forest beneath Hastings in 1872, the work of Jericho Road Solutions in making the restoration possible and of course the many Hastingers who have become shareholders to enable this phoenix project to take place after arsonists set the pier on fire in 2010. At a time when many worry about the increasing marginalisation or diminishing of the architect’s role, this project serves as a profound signal as to what the role of the architect can, and in many ways should, be.
Jon Astbury, AJ assistant architecture editor
The rundown pier closed in 2008 following storm damage and two years later faced destruction when a fire ravaged the entire structure.
However residents and supporters, determined to use the fire as an opportunity to reimagine the pier and bolstered by the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, pressed ahead with an RIBA-backed competition to find a design team to lead the revival (see AJ 30.01.11).
The contest was won by dRMM, who saw off the likes of FAT, WilkinsonEyre and Niall McLaughlin Architects to land the job, wowing the Hastings Pier Charity with its ‘flexibility, lateral thinking, and value for money’.
The firm proposed a sustainable pier capable of serving a wide variety of scenarios. Additional fundraising from a local action group found 3,000 shareholders who bought a stake in the project at £100 a share.
Founding director of dRMM, Alex de Rijke, said: ’[This] ambitious project which, like a ‘phoenix from the ashes’, was realised through dedicated community action.
’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. 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.’
The project demonstrates the evolving role of the architect as an agent for change
Alex de Rijke
Chair of Hastings Pier Charity, Maria Ludkin, added: ’Hastings Pier is both a symbol of regeneration achieved when communities work together and a beautifully designed canvas to realise multiple uses for the residents and visitors to the town who come to enjoy it. dRMM developed a strong design vision; respecting both the history of the pier whilst demonstrating innovation and originality in coming up with a 21st-century solution. From the opening day, Hastings Pier has invited curious visitors, stimulated conversations, and engaged and welcomed all who use and support us. Accessible and sustainable, it frames a spectacular seascape and offers unlimited variations for relaxation, contemplation and play.’
The judges for the prize were: RIBA president Ben Derbyshire (chair); Anupama Kundoo, Anupama Kundoo Architects; Peter St John, Caruso St John Architects; Evan Davis, journalist & BBC presenter; and Jane Hall, founding member of Assemble.
Hastings Pier is a project that has evolved the idea of what architecture is and what architects should do.
dRMM’s role has been utterly pivotal in realising this masterpiece of subtle, effortless design. They have driven this project through to completion: campaigning, galvanising and organising local support throughout each aspect of the funding stage. They went above and beyond what most people think of as the role of the architect – and then they kept going!
dRMM show what incredibly talented and dedicated architects can do: inspire, think big, interact and engage with communities and clients to help them to achieve the seemingly impossible; this is a great message for young architects following in their footsteps.
The vital importance of building sustainably runs throughout the RIBA’s awards, and Hastings Pier deserves special recognition for its remarkable use of sustainable materials and positive social impact. The architects have designed a process as much building, and have designed the Pier to evolve and grow.
This project shows that local communities working with architects can make a huge difference. Councils across the country should take inspiration from Hastings Pier, and open their eyes to the unique assets that can be created when such collaborations take place.
Read the AJ’s building study by Jon Astbury
’That two out of the six shortlisted projects this year have a historic seaside setting is indicative of an increasing coastal pull – one that estate agents are of course eager to exploit but one that has, and continues, to bear architectural fruit, be it in the considered Turner Contemporary or the bombastic British Airways i360. While these tales of creative transformation are often read as outside intervention – something of a ‘Shoreditchification’ – here the example is far more home-grown.’
The AJ is professional media partner for the RIBA Stirling Prize