World's tallest moving observation tower set to open on Sussex coast

British Airways i360, the tallest moving observation tower in the world, will open to the public on Thursday (August 4).

Tuesday, 2nd August 2016, 12:44 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 2:44 am
British Airways i360. Photo: Visual Air

The new attraction on the seafront in Brighton, is the world’s first vertical cable car.

Groups of up to 200 visitors will glide gently upwards to a height of 138 metres in a futuristic, fully enclosed, hand-crafted glass viewing pod to admire 360-degree views of up to 26 miles over Brighton and Hove, the Sussex coast and the English Channel.

Eleven years in the making, British Airways i360 is the brainchild of architect-entrepreneurs David Marks and Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield Architects, best known as the practice that conceived and designed the world- famous London Eye.

The design and engineering of British Airways i360 is as impressive as it is innovative. The tower is 162 metres high and it is acknowledged by Guinness World Records as the world’s most slender tower, with a height to width ratio of more than 40:1. British Airways i360 uses state of the art cable car technology to drive the pod up and down, and uses energy recapture technology during its descent to generate almost half of the electricity required to power its ascent.

Architect Julia Barfield said: “We first experienced what impact that heady mix of innovative architecture and engineering, combined with a great view of a great city, can have on the city at the London Eye. How it can be a catalyst for regeneration, breathe new life into forgotten areas and most importantly, give back to the city.

“Once you have experienced this, there is an almost irresistible urge to do it again - to drop another piece of design into the water and watch the ripples. We hope and expect that the i360 can have a similar positive effect on another great city: Brighton.”

Architect David Marks said: “Everyone loves a great view; it seems to be a universal desire to see the earth and its cities from exceedingly high places; it is a pleasure both to the eyes, and to the intellect, not only to gaze at horizons, but to look beyond them, and in doing so, to raise one’s sights that much higher.

“British Airways i360 is the result of a fantastic example of European cooperation. The team includes many key individuals and firms we worked with on the London Eye and it has been our privilege over the past twelve years to see the commitment, determination and enterprise with which they have turned the designs and plans into reality.

“Located at the landward end of the West Pier on Brighton beach, British Airways i360 is a modern-day ‘vertical pier’ whose purpose is simply to delight, entertain and inspire. Its design, engineering and method of construction are innovative, just as the West Pier was in its time. Visitors are invited to ‘walk on air’ and gain a new perspective on the city, just as the original pier welcomed Victorian society to ‘walk on water’.”

The idea of creating a ‘vertical pier’ as a catalyst for Brighton and Hove’s seafront regeneration was born in March 2005 when David Marks was invited by Alan McCarthy, the then Chief Executive of Brighton & Hove City Council, to view potential sites in the city for a new landmark attraction. In 2005 the West Pier Trust entered into a development agreement with Brighton i360 Limited, a new company formed by Marks Barfield, and planning permission was granted unanimously by Brighton & Hove City Council in 2006. It took a further ten years and the expertise of hundreds of people from across Europe to turn the concept into reality.

The team behind British Airways i360 includes key people and firms who originated, designed, built, and managed the UK’s number one paid-for visitor attraction, the London Eye. They brought with them a wealth of experience from that project. The new attraction on Brighton seafront opens almost exactly two years after beginning of construction works.

British Airways i360 is the most slender observation tower ever built. It called for innovative solutions to solve some of the difficult and unusual challenges thrown up by construction on this scale. Drawing on engineering and technologies associated with cable cars and tower cranes, the design team has created an intelligent structure, able to respond to wind and other weather conditions. While it has the London Eye as its predecessor, it is a completely unique design.

Passengers on British Airways i360 will board a specially designed pod, ten times the size of a London Eye capsule, capable of holding up to 200 people comfortably. Passengers can walk around freely inside the pod. Seating is provided and the interior environment of the pod is controlled to ensure passengers are comfortable. There is always a pod host on board who is in touch with the ground via camera and radio links. The double-glazing of the pod ensures that the views are magnificent and, because the pod ascends on the outside of the tower, the views are totally unobstructed. The pod is 18 metres in diameter and weighs 94 tonnes.

At beach level, the British Airways i360 Beach Building is a single storey glazed building that stretches the width of Regency Square behind it. The Beach Building accommodates all of the technical and administrative facilities associated with operating British Airways i360, as well as a 400 seat restaurant, a shop, children’s play zone, exhibition space, tea room, conference and event facilities. The roof of the Beach Building extends the esplanade on the seafront, creating space for the boarding area for the pod, as well as a ticket office and tea room.

The construction of British Airways i360 cost £42.2m, funded in part by £36.2 million from the Government’s Public Works Loans Board (PWLB), which was secured by Brighton & Hove City Council to lend on to British Airways i360 at a commercial interest rate. The profit on interest from the loan along with the business rates that the attraction will pay will earn the local authority more than £1 million a year. In addition to business rates and loan repayments, Brighton & Hove City Council will receive 1% of all British Airways i360 ticket revenues, in perpetuity. A similar deal at the London Eye has helped to pay for landscaping Jubilee Gardens, and has supported other public realm improvements, community groups and local initiatives on the South Bank.

British Airways i360 will play an important role in the regeneration of the Regency Square seafront in Brighton. The first phase of this has already been completed, in the form of two particularly important architectural features on the landward end of the pier: the imposing identical tollbooths built by the West Pier’s designer Eugenius Birch in Italianate style. These have been faithfully reconstructed, using salvaged cast iron ornate mouldings and wrought iron window frames to create new castings suitable for the Grade I listed structures. The reconstructed tollbooths match the originals in materials, style, dimensions, design and appearance in order to ensure that the architectural and historic importance of these buildings endures.