Deralict buildings and the role of design in community identity
Hastings Pier has recently burnt down by arsonists. Its loss raises a question of cultural identity and building function. The pier has been out of use since 1996 and become increasingly derelict. Is Hastings still Hastings if it doesn’t have a pier? What about civic pride/sense of identity? Is a derelict building like graffiti – shows no-one cares, break down of society…attracts more crime.
The pier had no “useful function” in the modern world…but maybe it did. It was part of Hastings’ identity, surely as such it was performing a useful function and it should never been allowed to fall in to disrepair. Brighton was once famous for having two state-of-the-art piers, now it is famous for having allowed the West Pier to go to rack and ruin. Is Brighton now half the place it was? Should the Lanes in Brighton be bulldozed and replaced with a modern shopping mall to improve pedestrian access? Is this neglect of manmade landmarks one of the contributory factors in the creation of “clone towns” and a rootless society with no sense of identity?
As an example of the opposite, the village of Corfe Castle in Dorset is dominated by the ruins of the castle that was blown up by Cromwell’s troops during the civil war. It has not functioned as a castle since, yet the ruins give the village its identity and the ruins are kept in good repair. As it no longer fulfills its function of being a castle should it be dismantled stone by stone and the stones recycled to build houses? Would the people in the village prefer to live in Corfe Hill or Corfe Castle? Would anyone go out of their way to visit Corfe Hill? Would they even bother to get out of their car and walk up the hill if the remains of the castle were not there?
These buildings do play an important role in the local identify but they must be kept and maintained as something that is recognised as important.