Visit i360 – The World’s Thinnest Observation Tower

Located in Brighton, East Sussex, London, i360 observation tower is the thinnest tower in the world with a diameter of under 4 meters, which makes it a favorite attraction for the visitors who travel to the city.
November 02, 2021 | 08:07

British Airways i360 is a 162 m (531 ft) observation tower on the seafront of Brighton, East Sussex, England at the landward end of the remains of the West Pier. The tower opened on 4 August 2016. From the fully enclosed viewing pod, visitors experience 360-degree views across Brighton, the South Downs and the English Channel.

British Airways i360 was designed, engineered, manufactured and promoted by the team responsible for the London Eye. The attraction cost £46 million, with £36 million being funded by a Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) loan through Brighton and Hove city council.

Photo: Visit Brighton
Photo: Visit Brighton

Formerly known as the "Brighton i360", the project aimed to attract 739,000 paying customers every year. The owner of the site, the West Pier Trust, hoped in 2014 that a successful i360 would lead to the rebuilding of the historic West Pier.

Conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects, the same firm behind the famous London Eye wheel, the i360 coastal observation tower in Brighton, UK looks like a giant needle pointing at the sky. It’s not the only observational tower in the world, but it is the thinnest one ever made. It has a diameter of only 3.9 meters, or 12.8 feet, at its widest point, and stands 162 meters tall. Although it is often described simply as a vertical cable car because of the technology it uses to drive a tourist-filled pod up and down, the i360 is actually an engineering marvel.

Photo: Visit Brighton
Photo: Visit Brighton

Who made i360?

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 either 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.

Photo: CNN
Photo: CNN

The tower's initial design had included a wind turbine at the top and rainwater harvesting facilities, to help mitigate the attraction's environmental impact. In October 2015 the developers dropped both these proposals, claiming that the turbine would have stopped the tower's damping system from working and be susceptible to wind damage, and that the water would be "too dirty to be useable".

The complex task of building foundations on chalk bedrock for an incredibly thin structure, in a seaside city where winds can reach speeds of 130km/h was tough to overcome, but the team at Marks Barfield Architects somehow made it happen, and the i360 tower is now able to safely withstand winds blowing at a speed of 161 km/h.

As the name suggests, the i360 observational tower offers a 360-degree view of Brighton and the coastline, by seamlessly gliding visitors to the top in what has been called the world’s first vertical cable car. The glass pod at the top measures 59 meters in diameter and can accommodate up to 200 passengers at a time.

Photo:  British Airways i360
Photo: British Airways i360

During the planning and construction of the tower, a number of local residents and groups campaigned against the building of the tower and the public loan, with a petition gaining 1,449 signatures, including those of architects Paul Zara, of Conran & 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."

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. 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.

Opening and operation

British Airways i360 opened on 4 August 2016. A scheduled fireworks display was delayed for a week due to a storm off the coast. The operator's website states that "flights" depart every 30 minutes, with rides lasting approximately 25 minutes.

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.

Photo:  PhilaTravelGirl
Photo: PhilaTravelGirl

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.

World's tallest moving observation tower claim

During promotions at the time of the tower's opening, its owners claimed that the i360 was "the world's tallest moving observation tower". The Guinness World Record title was later revoked after Guinness discovered that the 500-foot (150 m) Top o'Texas Tower, which opened in 2013, had a moving platform which reached a greater height. The Advertising Standards Authority subsequently ordered British Airways to cease advertising the i360 in this way.

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