Third time lucky for architect

dRMM has won the Stirling Prize for its Hastings Pier project.

The architect has twice been a finalist – last year for its housing at Elephant & Castle and in 2010 for Clapham Manor Primary School, both in London.

This year it landed the prize for what the judges described as a “masterpiece of subtle, effortless design”.

dRMM beat 6a, shortlisted for Juergen Teller’s photography studio; RSHP for the British Museum extension; Groupwork and Amin Taha for a housing project in north London; Baynes & Mitchell for an attraction at Chatham Historic Dockyard; and Reiach & Hall with Michael Laird for the city campus at City of Glasgow College.

Hastings Pier, which was built in 1872 by Eugenius Birch, closed in 2008 after storm damage and was almost destroyed two years later by fire.

Locals were determined the pier should not be destroyed but instead rise from the ashes. What followed is a triumph of community action and demonstrates the vision and practical support an architect can bring to a project. The judges said dRMM’s role was pivotal and should inspire young architects to reimagine their profession.

The community won Heritage Lottery funding, raised extra cash by selling £100 shares to 3,000 supporters, and held an RIBA competition, which was won by dRMM. The shortlist included Fat, Adams & Sutherland, Niall McLaughlin and Wilkinson Eyre.

dRMM repaired and rebuilt the 19th-century structural ironwork and transformed the surviving Victorian pavilion into a glazed café-bar. It added a visitor centre clad in timber – much of it reclaimed from the original pier and bearing scorch marks. The rest of the pier deck has been left open as an uninterrupted and flexible space for events. Reclaimed timber has also been used to create the pier’s new furniture, made locally as part of a local employment initiative.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire, who chaired this year’s jury, 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.

“I am delighted to award the 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize to the people’s pier.”

The other judges were Peter St John of last year’s winner Caruso St John, Anupama Kundoo of Anupama Kundoo Architects, Jane Hall, founding member of Assemble, and journalist Evan Davis.

Judges’ citation

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.