How dRMM's Hastings Pier design put community first

Hastings Pier

How dRMM's Hastings Pier design put community first

Words Mark Hooper

Speaking exclusively in the Nest Issue of Hole & Corner, Alex de Rijke explains what makes his RIBA Stirling Award-winning design for Hastings Pier so exciting. We also speak with Stewart Walton, the owner of Harbor, who was one of the locals involved in the project…

‘Hastings Pier is about facilitating other people’s empowerment. I found that really interesting: to make a platform that would allow anyone to do anything in the future,’ he says. ‘We were amazed at how we were being interviewed by people who didn’t even own it: the locals were that passionate about it, they had literally decided to save it because the owner wasn’t.’

His commitment to working with the local community extended to commissioning Hastings-based firm Harbor (H&BWR Ltd) to produce the benches for the new design. ‘One of the absolute best things for me about Alex’s design for the new pier in Hastings was his decision to re-use timber salvaged from the old pier,’ says Stewart Walton, owner of Harbor. ‘This and his determination to contract local firms wherever possible brought us together.’

Walton runs the business, founded in 2006, as a social enterprise, taking on unskilled trainees from an assortment of government-fund schemes. One such person who became integral to the furniture project was Pete Brackley, a former metal fabricator who’d found himself out of work when the US stopped importing British steel. ‘Pete is the man who made all those elegant tables and benches out of the salvaged decking from the old Hastings Pier,’ says Walton. ‘And our very own Iggy Pop lookalike has never taken a day off since we gave him a fulltime job. He’s a very much valued member of the team.’

Pete Brackley who worked on the Hastings Pier project, Photograph by Leo Cackett

The willingness of de Rijke’s architectural practice dRMM to engage with local talent even extended to collaborating on the furniture design – in the pub. ‘Alex and I got along from the word go,’ says Walton. ‘He’s an easy man to like – especially as we both use a pencil to explain our ideas. We came up with the design for the Wave bench over a pub lunch, drawing on the back of an envelope. The bench needed to withstand constant exposure to the elements, look great, be comfortable and seat as many as possible.’

The enthusiasm is mutual. ‘A project like Hastings Pier – it’s fascinating as an architect because a pier is such a crazy building type, isn’t it,’ says de Rijke. ‘It’s just a pleasure machine, it’s so unusual. So that was the initial attraction, to be honest.’

The story doesn’t quite have the happy ending it deserves – at least not yet. The pier is currently up for sale, so the hope is an owner who is as sensitive to the community as the architect will eventually take over, so that this rare story of revival will continue…

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