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Hastings Pier Wins the 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize and Becomes the UK's Best New Building
© Alex de Rijke
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Hastings Pier Wins the 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize and Becomes the UK's Best New Building

Picture of Charlotte Luxford
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 1 November 2017
Described as a ‘phoenix risen from the ashes’, Hastings Pier has won the prestigious architectural accolade for its imaginative contemporary design, which has replaced the Victorian pier that was lost in a devastating fire.

The Stirling Prize-winning building by dRMM Architects is now a shining beacon in Hastings’ larger regeneration project, which aims to preserve Hastings’ unique maritime heritage. It now sits alongside its contemporary neighbour, the world-class Jerwood Gallery, which also won a RIBA award in 2013 for its sensitive and sustainable design.

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Francesco Montaguti | © Francesco Montaguti

These striking new contemporary landmarks are helping the East Sussex town to reclaim its swagger, restoring it to the popular seaside resort it once was, but it’s a slow process. The iconic Victorian pier was left neglected for years and only once it was ravaged by the fire did the opportunity to re-imagine the pier completely come about.

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The pier after it was damaged by the fire | © Alex de Rijke

RIBA president, and Stirling Prize 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.

Hastings Pier showcases the remarkable skills, tenacity and problem-solving flair of its talented architects, dRMM. It also rewards the patrons of this great architectural achievement: the local people who have taken the initiative, and risk, to create this highly innovative and extraordinary new landmark.’

© Alex de Rijke

Just like most contemporary architecture projects in heritage locations these days, the focus for the pier was sustainability, suitability and sociability. The 19th-century structural ironwork has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and the Victorian pavilion has been transformed into an open-plan cafe-bar with epic views out towards the English Channel.

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Alex de Rijke | © Alex de Rijke

Dubbed ‘the people’s pier’ by Derbyshire, the construction was partly funded by a local action group who tirelessly campaigned for its transformation and found 3,000 shareholders to buy a stake in the project at £100 a pop. Reclaimed timber has been used for the pier’s new furniture, which was created by locals, and the vast pier deck has become a real community hub set for large-scale concerts, markets and other public gatherings.

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Alex de Rijke | © Alex de Rijke

dRMM Architects‘ founding director Alex de Rijke said: ‘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.’

It’s not just Hastings that’s become a grateful recipient of contemporary architecture – the Turner Contemporary in Margate was also an integral part of Margate’s regeneration project and saw huge numbers of visitors flock to the town as a result. Now nicknamed ‘Shoreditch on Sea’, Margate has unwittingly become a thriving hotspot for ex-London hipsters who have left behind the chaos and eye-watering rents of the ‘Big Smoke’ to set up a new creative community on the coast instead.

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© James Robertshaw

While some condemn this gentrification, it’s undoubtedly restored Margate’s buzz and optimism and it’s looking like that’s starting to rub off on Hastings, too. There’s been talk of a new high-speed rail link, connecting Hastings to London, which would almost certainly be a game-changer, drawing in those who are now even finding Margate’s rocketing property prices too expensive.

There’s plenty of promise for Hastings, and just like the pier, the whole town is on its way to becoming a ‘phoenix risen from the ashes’, too.