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Hastings Pier - the first RIBA Competition project to win the Stirling Prize

Hastings Pier: the first RIBA Competition to win the Stirling Prize

Many RIBA competition projects have made it on to the RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist over the years – including the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre in 2014 and the Whitworth Gallery in 2015 – but Hastings Pier on the East Sussex coast is the first to go on to win the biggest award in British architecture.

With a history charting from 1872, this was a popular pleasure pier for many years, but its recent past has been much more precarious. After years of neglect, it closed in 2008 following storm damage.

The RIBA-run competition to restore the pier was originally launched on 24 September 2010. It was put on hold following the now infamous fire in the early hours of 5 October, but residents and friends were determined to use the fire as an opportunity to reimagine the pier as a catalyst for further regeneration of Hastings and St. Leonards.

A survey commissioned by Hastings Borough Council suggested that whilst damage to the pier was substantial, there had been minimum impact to the columns of the sub-structure. Therefore, although some emergency work was needed to stabilise the pier, the original ambition behind the competition remained. The decision was made to proceed with the competition, and it was officially relaunched just a few weeks later, on 25 October.

The competition format was a Competitive Interview so no design proposals were prepared for this part of the process. There were 53 entries and six practices were shortlisted and invited to attend an interview with the judging panel.

Photograph of Hastings Pier fire damage by Alex de Rijke

Tina Reid, of the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust said at the time:

“The pier burned down just after we advertised the competition for an architect, which was devastating. However, the interest we received in the competition and the quality of the practices was extremely heartening. The six shortlisted practices were all excellent. dRMM gave a particularly impressive presentation and question and answer session. They showed flexibility and lateral thinking in their designs, as well as value for money. They also showed a very open approach to consultation with Hastings community, with no preconceptions of how the pier should look. Every member of the panel agreed with having dRMM as our first choice and we are looking forward to working with them”.

Reopening in 2016, the new look Hastings Pier has been repaired, rebuilt, and creatively reimagined. The original structural iron work, hidden below deck, has been restored and strengthened, and the surviving Victorian Pavilion has been transformed into an open plan, glazed cafe-bar.

The vast pier deck has been set aside as an uninterrupted expanse for large-scale concerts, markets and public gatherings. The new timber-clad visitors centre building in the centre of the pier has a viewing deck on its roof, providing a dramatic space for visitors to experience epic views along the coast and across the English Channel.

Above-deck fire debris was cleared and the below-deck structure repaired before dRMM's design and rebuilding of the pier. Photograph by Alex de Rijke.

The 2017 RIBA Awards judges declared the project to be ‘a masterpiece of regeneration and inspiration’. From the initial competition submission, through to public celebration on the night of the Stirling Prize announcement, this project has been continually acknowledged for the strong relationship between client, community, and architect.

"...well crafted, sensitive and understated public buildings and structures which form the bedrock of their communities." Photograph by James Robertshaw

Sadie Morgan of dRMM says winning a RIBA Stirling Prize was a community achievement that we should all learn to follow:

“Winning the Stirling Prize is like receiving the best picture Oscar, so excuse me while I do the important bit first: thank you, Hastings, for giving us the chance to work on what is a career-defining project, and for being such a wonderful, resourceful and interesting client – or in this instance, clients.”

Photography by Alex de Rijke

The success of the project demonstrates that well-run competitions can be used for a diverse range of project types and budgets on behalf of both public and private sector clients. Martin Knight, of Knight Architects, says:

“So, Hastings Pier has been awarded the RIBA Stirling Prize 2017, and with it the architectural establishment has rightly celebrated the idea of the ‘beautiful ordinary’ – well crafted, sensitive and understated public buildings and structures which form the bedrock of their communities, yet which are modest enough to allow everyday life to take centre stage.

Hastings Pier is beautiful, flexible, subtle and enduring. Well done dRMM, well done Hastings Pier Charity and well done RIBA Stirling Prize Jury!”

RIBA Competitions deliver choice, inspiration and value to clients through expertly run architectural competitions and competitive selection processes.

Find out more about the benefits of working with our experienced team, or browse competitions currently open for entries.

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