British Airways I360

by | 11. Oct 2016

Project | Public/ leisure

British Airways i360. Glass viewing pod. © Marks Barfield Architects

By Jason Dibbs

The world’s most slender tall tower, British Airways i360 is a ‘vertical pier,’ that is set to redefine the shoreline of the city of Brighton and Hove. Designed by the team responsible for the enormously successful London Eye, Marks Bradfield Architects, British Airways i360 seeks to reinvent the Victorian ‘pleasure pier’ for the 21st century.

Located at the entry to the historic West Pier at Brighton, British Airways i360 is described by architects David Marks and Julia Barfield as “a modern day vertical pier, which invites visitors to ‘walk on air’ and gain a new perspective on the city, just as the West Pier invited Victorian society to ‘walk on water.'”


British Airways i360.  The world’s tallest moving observation tower. Photograph by Kevin Meredith © British Airways i360

The visually commanding 162-metre tall tower has a maximum diameter of just 3.9-metres at its widest point, earning it acknowledgement as not only the world’s tallest moving observation tower, but also Guinness World Records recognition as the world’s most slender tall tower, with a height to width ratio of more than 40:1. Encircling the tower is a moveable glass viewing-pod, with capacity for 200 visitors, reaching a viewing level of 138-metres at the apex of its ascent. This affords expansive views over the English Channel, the dramatic Sussex coastline and the rolling hills of the South Downs, with an overall potential viewing distance of up to 42 kilometres.


British Airways i360.  Pavilion on lower esplanade, Brighton Beach. © Marks Barfield Architects

The 18-metre diameter oblate-ellipsoid pod is driven by innovative cable-car technology developed by French company Poma, which generates energy during the pod’s descent phase. The tower’s steel cladding is latticed to diffuse wind loads and reduce heat expansion from the sun. The pedestal for the structure is formed by a lower esplanade pavilion, housing a 400-seat restaurant, retail areas and additionally, a heritage tea room is situated in a reconstruction of an 1866 West Pier toll booth on the beach’s upper esplanade.

David Marks and Julia Barfield have suggested that the British Airways i360 continues the rich tradition of Brighton’s history of ‘pleasure-architecture,’ reinventing the notion of the Victorian-period seaside entertainment pier for the 21st century. Locally however, the construction of the tower inevitably met with some resistance, not least because of the tower’s arguably phallic-dominance of the Brighton shoreline and skyline. However, Brighton is no stranger to extroverted architecture. The city’s best-known landmark to-date, the highly eccentric Royal Pavilion, was completed in 1823 as the seaside leisure residence of the Prince Regent and draws on a range of exotic influences. Designed by the architect John Nash, responsible for much of Buckingham Palace and for the town planning of Regency London, the Pavilion is world-renowned for its Picturesque Indo-Saracenic and Oriental aesthetic, that has come to both architecturally embody and define the alternative-ethos of the city.


British Airways i360, foregrounded by the remains of the West Pier. © Marks Barfield Architects

Following the enormous success of the London Eye, Marks Bradfield Architects had been contacted by various cities wanting to replicate the economic stimulation instigated by the iconic Thames-side landmark. However, after a 13-year gestation period and 2-years of construction, British Airways i360 emerged as heir-apparent to the London Eye on the shores of Sussex. Brighton’s West Pier had stood in dereliction since its closure in 1975, and was irreparably fire-damaged in 2003. British Airways i360 will redefine not only the architectural character of the immediate vicinity of the West Pier, but should also further enhance the already accelerating economy of the broader city.


British Airways i360. Underside of pod. Photograph by Kevin Meredith © British Airways i360

British Airways i360 is projected to attract 700,000 visitors each year, with each ride taking 20 minutes to ascend during daylight hours, and a more leisurely 30 minutes in the evening, tying in with the transformation of the i360 at night into a Sky Bar. This transformation is coupled with a ‘breathing’ lighting display, described by the architects as “gently increasing and decreasing in intensity at the average rate of a human being breathing at rest.” The lights operate between sunset and midnight. The lighting design by Do-Architecture is mostly concentrated towards the tower’s apex, with four white lights illuminating vertical slots in the tower’s cladding. Additionally, a subtle glow permeates the tower, created by twenty four coloured LEDs, positioned between the steel structure and its cladding. Architect David Marks states, “The lighting is designed to be flexible so that the colours and effects can change to reflect events and moments that are important locally, nationally or globally. The lighting can be designed to sparkle, scintillate, shimmer, or glow. The range of possible effects is absolutely brilliant.”


British Airways i360. ‘Breathing’ lighting display. © British Airways i360


British Airways i360. Lighting design by Do-Architecture. © British Airways i360


British Airways i360. Underside of pod at night. © British Airways i360


COUNTRYUnited Kingdom
ARCHITECTMarks And Barfield Architects