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Ferris Wheel reinvented with Brighton's world-first i360

The British Airways i360 – the world’s first vertical cable car, tallest moving observation tower and most slender tower – has opened to the public in Brighton, UK.

Opened today (4 August), the so-called “vertical pier” by Marks Barfield Architects sits on the foundation of Brighton’s former Victorian-era West Pier, which was destroyed by an arson attack in March 2003.

“When the West Pier was built and when the Palace Pier was built, there was a sort of rivalry between them,” said studio MD Julia Barfield, speaking to CLAD at the launch, explaining the concept. “It was all about enjoying the view back to Brighton as much as enjoying the air and the promenade. This is really a vertical way of replicating that. When you were at the end of the pier you could look back at Brighton and now you can look over it.”

The 162m (531ft) tall i360 is literally a reinvention of the wheel, with the vertical tower offered by Marks Barfield – also designers of the London Eye – as an alternative to the traditional Ferris Wheel concept.

“It’s a very discreet intervention, if you can call a 164m tower discreet that is,” said Barfield. “It’s very, very slender – almost impossibly so. It is one to 40 in its proportions which makes it the most slender tower in the world.

“We wanted a small space with a great view and this was the way to do that,” she continued. “The footprint of the tower itself is 3.9m (12.8ft) in diameter. The pod for this tower is at the limit of what a tower this size can take, with 200 people able to board at one time.”

Eleven years in the making, Marks Barfield worked on the project with constructor Hollandia, local engineers Mackley Construction, pod-maker Poma-Sigma and Italian glassmaker Sunglass.

The i360 cost £42.2m (US$56.2m, €50.3m) to develop, funded in-part by a £36.2m (US$48.2m, €43.1m) government loan.

During each ‘flight’, passengers board the pod – similar in style to that of the London Eye but on a significantly larger scale – and take a 20 minute journey for unobstructed views of Brighton and the surrounding areas, with views stretching for miles on a clear day. A single-storey visitor centre has been incorporated into the foot of the tower design, which includes a 400-seat restaurant, conference and exhibition space, a shop and children’s play facilities.

When asked if the i360 model would be replicated as has been seen with the London Eye, Barfield said it was a possibility.

“We’re open to suggestion, put it that way,” she said. “This is certainly the first of these towers but it might not be the last. A future model likely would not be identical – I’m a true believer in making the projects fit their context. We would have to adapt it for its surroundings. This fits the West Pier nicely but you would have to consider particularly the base building and how it sits. Future iterations would be designed to be bespoke to their surroundings.”

i360  visitor attraction  Marks Barfield  architecture  Brighton  
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The British Airways i360 – the world’s first vertical cable car, tallest moving observation tower and most slender tower – has opened to the public in Brighton, UK. Opened today (4 August), the so-called “vertical pier” by Marks Barfield Architects sits on the foundation of Brighton’s former Victorian-era West Pier, which was destroyed by an arson attack in March 2003. “When the West Pier was built and when the Palace
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The i360 comes to Brighton's seafront after 11 years of development / British Airways i360
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