BRIGHTON – The history of this British beach town as a leisure and entertainment centre has produced playful architecture for many years, from the burnt-down West Pier to the Palace Pier and the buildings in between – the gaudy Brighton Pavilion, the Stables, the Royal Theatre, the Ferris wheel, and the list goes on. Now another entertainment icon has opened. From the ruins of the pleasure pier burnt down in 2003 has risen a drop tower, in slow motion: British Airways i360. The city doesn’t have many tall buildings, now it has a skyscraper. Of course, some may think it’s not really a skyscraper but instead a very tall and thin stand-alone elevator. The tower has made a new world record for being the tallest moving observation tower, but also the thinnest. The lift cart can carry 200 passengers on a 20 to 30 minute ascent to 137m, providing guests with a panoramic view of the south coast and the English Channel. The i360 creative team has opted to mimic the historic sales pitch of the West Pier who invited visitors to ‘walk on water’ – and now British Airways i360 invites visitors to ‘walk on air’, turning a horizontal pier, vertical.
The design team behind the project is Marks Barfield Architects, led by David Marks and Julia Barfield who were responsible for the famous tourist attraction The London Eye. Ever since the success of their previous tourist project made for the bankside of the River Thames, the couple have been looking for a cheaper alternative model that could be installed in other cities around the world. They imagined an observation tower as the more affordable alternative. Even with the price cut, over the decade-long process the client/architect met struggles financial and environmental. Innovative engineering was required to manage the challenges of wind in stabilising the tower due to the slender profile. Persevering economic ups and downs, the architects are very happy with the completion of their pet project for Brighton. If the attraction is successful, it’s foreseeable that the opportunity to duplicate the idea or another concept on to other cities will be unreservedly embraced by the architect.