Under construction behind hoarding, June 2015
Plans were submitted in June 2006 and were approved by Brighton and Hove City Council later that year with construction projected to start in 2007. Following delays of around 15 months, the off-site construction of the sections of the tower began in 2008 in the Netherlands, and work on reconstructing the arches beneath and east of the pier to allow the tower construction began in November 2012. Work on the tower itself began in May 2014, with the attraction being scheduled to open in 2016.
The Dutch steelwork specialist Hollandia prefabricated the cylindrical steel sections of the tower, known by the team as cans. The column is 4 m (13 ft) in diameter, and with a height-to-diameter ratio of 40:1, it is the world’s slenderest tall tower.
The glass passenger pod was designed and built by cable car specialists POMA, which also built the London Eye capsules. The passenger pod is 18 m (59 ft) in diameter and holds up to 200 people. The viewing pod travels from street level to a height of 138 m (453 feet) before returning to beach level. The pod provides a 360-degree view through curved glass and is heated and air-conditioned, with full wheelchair accessibility and bench seating. It also contains a bar; and restaurant in the base building called the Belle Vue.
English Heritage felt that the 2006 plan would “provide an outstanding feature on the seafront, and a worthy companion to any successor to the West Pier”. In a statement, the West Pier Trust hoped that the project would “regenerate a key blighted city site and send out a loud message that Brighton is open for business”.
The project was the winner of the Judges’ Special Award at the British Construction Industry Awards 2017. It also won The Award for Tall or Slender Structures and The Supreme Award for Structural Engineering Excellence at The Institution of Structural Engineers’ Structural Awards 2017.
Opening and operation
Passengers preparing to enter the i360 pod
British Airways i360 opened on 4 August 2016. A scheduled fireworks display was delayed for a week due to a storm off the coast. Pod flights depart every 30 minutes with rides lasting approximately 20–25 minutes.
Interior of the i360 pod
The pod was vandalised within the first few weeks of operation, with a foot-long crack in the glass being repaired after it was noticed by customers. A spokeswoman described the damage as “aesthetic” that held no risk to customers’ safety.
The i360 experienced operational issues a month after opening. On two occasions in September 2016 the i360’s pod became stuck. A “slight technical fault” resulted in passengers being stranded 9 m (30 ft) above ground for a time. Just days later 200 visitors were trapped at ground level for over an hour. The tower was closed for a day for checks. A broken cable in February 2017 caused passengers to become stuck part way through the ride for two hours, and the i360 was closed over the weekend for repairs. In March 2017, the tower was closed due to a temporary fault; the third time the attraction has been closed since it opened.
The project was initially intended to be entirely privately funded. The architect, Marks Barfield, sold its stake in the London Eye and found financial backers to build the tower. Following the financial crisis of 2007–08, Marks Barfield approached Brighton and Hove Council for a loan. The council initially agreed to support the build with a £14.8 million loan, but this was raised after an unnamed private equity investor told the architects it could no longer proceed and withdrew its planned £15 million contribution in 2012. In March 2014, the project was expected to cost £46 million, with Brighton and Hove Council lending £36.2 million from the Public Works Loan Board and architects Marks Barfield contributing £6 million. The deal includes Marks Barfield paying £1m annual profit to the council.
The £36.2 million loan was agreed at a Special Policy & Resources Committee in March 2014, the council agreeing to more than replace the lost investment capital and to again borrow from the Public Works Loan Board to effect the new bailout. The Coast to Capital LEP loan of £3 million was raised to £4 million. The West Pier Trust has suggested the project “will cost the taxpayer nothing”, but some residents are concerned that any repayment risk would be borne by the residents of Brighton & Hove. The council has said that if the loan were not repaid, it would have the option to take over the attraction, find another operator or sell it.
In June 2018, disappointing visitor numbers forced the owners to ask Brighton and Hove City Council and the LEP for better loan repayment terms. Brighton and Hove News reported that ‘in the first full year, from August 2016, the i360 had just over 500,000 visitors, significantly fewer than the 800,000 predicted.’ The shortfall in visitors was ‘blamed on poor weather and the unreliable train service to and from London.’
Original design artwork of the tower
British Airways i360 was designed by the architectural company Marks Barfield, which also designed the London Eye. The building was conceived as a “vertical pier”. The tower is located at the shore end of the ruined West Pier, and the design recreated the original Italianate ticket booths of the West Pier, placed on both side of the entrance, serving as ticket office and tea room. The design also includes a beachfront building that allows access to the tower and houses a brasserie, café and gift shop.
The tower is designed as a 162 m (531 ft) tall needle structure with an ascending and descending circular viewing platform with capacity for 200 people. It is Britain’s tallest moving observation tower, with a viewing platform at 138 m (453 ft), and views along the coast, across the South Downs and across the English Channel. The viewing platform is higher than the nearby Sussex Heights tower block and Whitehawk Hill, and about the same height as Thundersbarrow Hill, Red Hill and Race Hill around Brighton & Hove. The top is about the same height as Beeding Hill to the northwest and Falmer Hill to the northeast, but not as high as parts of Woodingdean, Hollingbury Hill, Ditchling Beacon or Devil’s Dyke.
According to the operator, the “i” in the title stands for “intelligence, innovation and integrity”.
View of i360 from Regency Square. Ruins of the West Pier just visible on the right
Some local residents have campaigned against the loan and raised petitions, one reaching 1,449 signatures, including those of architects Paul Zara, of Conran and Partners, and Paul Nicholson, of Chalk Architecture; Simon Fanshawe, the writer and broadcaster, and Malcolm Dawes, chairman of the Brighton Society. Zara has since become a supporter of the i360, declaring, “We should embrace it.”
Valerie Payton of the SaveHOVE campaign said that the tower “will be profoundly out of keeping with the rest of the seafront. It will be a huge, wide and monstrously tall steel structure that will be omnipresent and visible from wherever you look in the city and beyond.” She expressed concern that if the project failed for any reason, the city would have to repay the loan. Selma Montford of the Brighton Society, which aims to conserve and improve the city’s amenities, described the i360 as a “horrendous thing in the sky” which would belittle nearby Regency Square. She said that she did not believe it would achieve the predicted visitor figures. Brighton residents who dislike the i360 have nicknamed it the “iSore”.
Writing in The Independent on the day following the launch, Janet Street-Porter criticised the i360, comparing it unfavourably with Brighton’s “egalitarian” West Pier. The Seattle Times also reported on unfavourable reactions to the opening.