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British Airways i360

The world’s most slender tower celebrates the beauty of Brighton – and beyond
British Airways i360

As the aerodynamic glass viewing pod glides gently up to 450ft, passengers on the South East’s newest tourist attraction enjoy breathtaking views across Brighton & Hove, the South Downs National Park, the Channel and, on the clearest days, all the way along the coast to the Isle of Wight.

British Airways i360 is the world’s tallest moving observation tower: a 162-metre tower with a fully enclosed glass viewing pod designed to be like a ‘vertical pier’. Visitors are invited to get a new perspective on their environment and to ‘walk on air’ in the same way the Victorians once visited Brighton’s West Pier to ‘walk on water’.

‘Everyone loves a great view’, says chairman David Marks of Marks Barfield Architects, creators of the London Eye as well as British Airways i360. ‘It seems to be a universal desire to see the Earth and its cities from exceedingly high places – it is a pleasure to the eyes, and to the intellect, not only to gaze at horizons but to look beyond them, and in doing so to raise one’s sights that much higher.’


The design and engineering of British Airways i360 is as impressive as it is innovative. The tower is acknowledged by Guinness World Records as the world’s most slender tower, with a height-to-width ratio of more than 40:1. State-of-the-art cable car technology is used to drive the pod up and down and around 50% of the energy needed to power the pod is generated on its descent.

In fact, clean, green and efficient were the watchwords when designing the energy sustainability systems of British Airways i360.

“Clean’ meant choosing electricity as the only mains energy source’, says Loren Butt, environmental systems design engineer. ‘This not only ensures there is no on-site pollution from fossil fuel burning today, it’s also the only usable energy supply with a prospect of real sustainability – a future of unrestricted renewable production, clean and essentially free of environmental impact.

“Green’ meant sourcing electricity on a green tariff, where the supplier is committed to purchasing only from established sustainable renewable energy installations – wind farms, solar arrays and hydro-electric plants; tidal sources are bound to come eventually.

“Efficient’ meant applying state-of-the-art internal environment energy systems engineering.’ To ensure year-round passenger comfort, a constant temperature is maintained in the British Airways i360 pod through innovative and specially developed air conditioning units.

‘We economise on cooling energy use by supplying plain untreated fresh air directly to the pod during sunny weather in spring and autumn’, Loren explains. ‘At other times, we keep the fresh air supply constantly adjusted to be just right for good internal air quality. In this way we minimise the energy required to heat and cool the fresh air in summer and winter.

‘A constant neutral air pressure is maintained in the pod, thereby avoiding energy wastage from movement of air when the pod doors open and close. For sustainability in a future of uncertain weather patterns, we have also matched the pod cooling capacity to outdoor temperature predictions as far ahead as 2030.’

‘The whole city has a stake in British Airways i360 and it’s in all our interests to see it succeed. This development is a key part of a billion-pound council-led transformation of our seafront which will help secure our city’s economic future, providing the growth we need to support jobs, homes and services.’

Brighton & Hove City Council leader

A sustainable approach

At the base of the British Airways i360 tower is a single-storey beach building housing a restaurant, shop and events spaces, all of which are heated and cooled by electrically powered air source heat pumps. These harvest renewable thermal energy from the outdoor air and deliver it to air circulation units around the building.

The system operation is reversible, providing energy-efficient space cooling while also discharging the excess heat to the outside air. If the weather conditions are viable, natural ventilation can be used in some spaces, too.

‘Sustainability is about the approach taken to the design of British Airways i360, and also about how we work’, says David. ‘During construction as little material as possible was sent to landfill. All of the shingle excavated from the foundations went to Shoreham to be returned to the beach, helping to reverse the longshore drift.

‘The menus in our restaurant feature fresh, locally sourced food that has been caught, reared and grown in Sussex. In our shop, we use recyclable material where possible. Our team is encouraged to cycle, walk or take public transport to work. We have no company cars or parking permits and we provide dedicated cycle storage, showers and changing facilities.’

Brighton’s architectural identity

So what about the built environment, the city around it? British Airways i360 is situated at the root end of the historic West Pier, once described by English Heritage as ‘the finest pleasure pier ever built’.

Tragically, ravaged by the elements and subsequently devastated by fire, by 2004 the pier had become a ruin beyond restoration. This prominent site was framed by a dilapidated stretch of seafront and needed bold yet sensitive regeneration.

‘Brighton has a long tradition of expressing its identity through remarkable architecture, with landmarks that include the Royal Pavilion as well as the West Pier’, said David. ‘As Sir Anthony Seldon commented in his book, Brave New City, Brighton has been most successful ‘when it has been bold and imaginative’.

After a decade-long process of working with the West Pier Trust, Brighton & Hove City Council and local enterprise group Coast to Capital – and after extensive consultation with the city’s residents and businesses – British Airways i360 finally opened in August 2016.

‘We are guided by the conviction that design is a powerful tool for both social and environmental good. At its best it improves people’s lives while drawing on a minimum of the Earth’s limited resources. Architecture is in its essence optimistic, combining both creativity and hope. It can be a catalyst for renewal and encourage environmental awareness, increasing positive connections between civil society, the natural and the built environment.’

Marks Barfield Architects

It is estimated that the attraction will bring £25m per annum in economic benefit to Brighton & Hove; it also champions local businesses wherever possible and has generated hundreds of new jobs that pay the living wage.

British Airways i360 deputy chair Julia Barfield said, ‘At the London Eye we first experienced what impact a heady mix of innovative architecture and engineering combined with a great view can have on a city. How it can be a catalyst for regeneration, breathe new life into forgotten areas and, most importantly, give back to the city. ‘Once you have experienced this, there is an almost irresistible urge to do it again – to drop another piece of design into the water and watch the ripples. We hope and expect that British Airways i360 can have a similar positive effect on another great city: Brighton.’

Click here to find out more about British Airways i360.

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