Making Brighton’s i360 ‘A-Pier’
Brighton’s new i360 has been controversial in its conception and now completed, forms a strong feature on the seafront landscape. Most are in positive mood for this new £46 million tourist attraction housed in front of the old West Pier which closed in 1975. The crumbling, rusting iron work of the famous pier has become a Brighton landmark. The hope of the Piers re-emergence and re-development was scuppered by fire (2003) leaving backers with major doubts to safety and long term economic performance of a new West Pier. In place of one dream another emerged. The i360 which takes passengers up to a height of 450 feet looking over splendid views of Brighton, the coast and the South Downs. On a really clear day one could see as far as Eastbourne. According to the operator the ‘I’ stands for ‘intelligence, innovation and integrity’.
Walking along the Brighton front, seeing in the near distance the pole that supports the new i360 it does look rather ugly by itself, until the doughnut shaped capsule, housing paying guests emerges from the ground and starts making its way up the steel pole. It then looks rather exciting and interesting. Its building and design has been promoted by the same team responsible for the ‘London Eye’ The British Airways i360 is the world’s first vertical cable car and the world’s tallest moving observation tower – the team expects the tower to appear in the 2017 Guinness Book of Records as “the world’s slenderest tall tower.
Opened in August 2016, like many such projects the engineering in building the structure is impressive but faced several challenges. Due to the flexible structure there is little problem in strong winds and the journey up is as smooth coming down. Many of the parts were built for the steel tower by a Dutch company and brought over by tugs and assembled on site. Much of the work involved rearranging electrical supplies and redirecting a Victorian drain around the building taking away much of Brighton’s waste.
The pod is heated and air-conditioned, with full wheelchair accessibility and bench seating. It also contains a bar on board. At the base of the complex there is a restaurant called the ‘Belle Vue’ along with a break away room and gift shop making it an interesting option for event managers looking for a different and unique setting for a corporate event in Brighton. It is in walking distance of the main hotels and The Brighton Centre.
Two weeks ago a member of my family remarked ‘What happens if it gets stuck’? ‘It won’t’ I said reassuringly. A week later it got stuck. A private party of some of Brighton business movers and shakers were trapped inside for just over two hours. This was seen as small blip. Stephen Darby who was on board at the time said ’All felt safe, drinks were flowing but needed to be careful as there is no WC up there’. Further problems and short stoppages resulted in it being temporally shut down so improvements could be made. James Dempster (Cobb Digital) also on board that night believed it was ‘a good lesson for the i360’.
However, there seemed no concerns, being one of the first to go up in a specially invited party of architects and construction companies since these initial problems occurred. Eleanor Harris (Managing Director of the i360) was reassuring and told us ‘we all be going up this morning’. The journey and the views were spectacular, on my exit being asked by BBC local news team ‘what I thought?’ Giving it a positive. The experience had filled me with confidence to the overall success of the project.
The British Airways i360 project hopes to attract around 750,000 people a year paying £15 for tourists and £7.50 for residents. The owner of the site, the West Pier Trust, still hopes that a successful i360 will lead to the rebuilding of the historic West Pier.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.