British Piers
Domus 802, Milano

1997

Piers are long wood or metal fingers sticking out into the sea; they house various forms of entertainment. They first began to be built in the early nineteenth century, studding the shores of Britain and Wales. This boom followed the blossoming popularity of seaside family vacations. The piers' development peaked towards the end of the nineteenth century, at the height of Queen Victoria 's reign; then, there were seventy, while around twenty still function. By exploiting the trestle bridge technology and the great experience of Paxton's Crystal Palace, these structures jut courageously up to a mile out in the open water, resting on slender pilings. The form of the pilings is frequently due merely to engineering concerns, whereas the buildings are clearly eclectic; their architecture was inspired by fanciful dreams or chinoiserie and extravagant fairy tales. Much of the modernity of the piers derives from this total detachment between the bearing structure and what it carries (between structure and superstructure). Once the structural engineering facet had been defined, it was possible to approach the formal side in perfect freedom. Each pier is a world in itself, a constellation of buildings and places magically balanced over the Ocean. These floating islands succeed in bringing the mainland out to sea: you can stroll and be on the water without getting wet. Water becomes a landscape, something immaterial: it can be seen but not touched. The piers were the destinations and goals of the railways. Thanks to these links, the seashore structures immediately had a powerful regional impact. Piers are aquatic architecture, lived-in bridges, architectural structures and decorated buildings; in their gay world they incarnate all these themes in a carefree fashion.




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