The Royal Institute of British Architects released their shortlist for the Stirling Prize this week, the annual award given to the U.K.’s best building. A range of superb homes, a college campus, and even a photo studio made the cut to be considered for the country’s highest architectural honor, previously bestowed on famed designers such as Zaha Hadid and Foster and Partners.
This year, one of the nominees is a pier.
Sure, Hastings Pier in East Sussex, designed by dRMM Architects, may not look as grand as a new skyscraper, or as inspiring as a perfectly proportioned country estate. But the roughly 900-foot-long pier does one thing, and does it well; it adds to the community by not really adding anything at all but empty space. It is a platform, at its most basic, that functions as a platform: users bring their own architecture to the site to plug in and play.
Adding nothing but a blank slate for civic gathering and engagement, it turns out, takes a lot of work. The RIBA jury noted that “it has taken a seven-year heroic collaboration to turn a smoldering pier in disrepair and decline into a vibrant public space with a palpable sense of ownership,” when announcing the project’s selection.
The pier, a flat, empty expanse specifically designed to be a flexible event space for the seaside town, found the potential for rebirth after a fire. When the original burnt down in 2010, it presented a unique opportunity to create new public arena. The architects at dRMM decided to leave the question of what’s next as open-ended as possible.
They engaged the community, explaining that the plan would allow any number of events, from circuses to music events to markets, to take place within its broad expanse. The furniture was even fabricated via a local employment initiative.
The end result is a space that maximizes flexibility, with just a few structures on site made from glass and engineered timber (partially recycled from old decking that survived the fire). The new community pier has become a playground for temporary installations, with the locally-owned Hastings Pier Charity constantly challenging others to find new, seasonal uses for the space. This is architecture that doesn’t define space, but invites opportunity.
The pier, for the most part, is blank space. And that’s why it’s such a successful design. It’s (really) already won the National Piers Society's "Pier of the Year" award earlier this year.