Our story started in 2000 when the London Eye opened to huge critical acclaim and quickly became the UK’s most visited paid-for visitor attraction.
Its architects, David Marks and Julia Barfield, were approached by countless cities who wanted an ‘Eye’ but found that a similar wheel design would not be financially viable without a suitable site and sufficient visitor numbers, so David and Julia went back to the drawing board and designed British Airways i360.
The British Airways i360 design has many advantages including a larger more versatile glass viewing pod, a large visitor building at its foot and a lower capital cost.
To read more about the architects’ vision click here.
Brighton and Hove City Council were keen to secure the landmark development for the seafront and in 2006, consultation began to construct the i360 at the site of the historic West Pier.
During the formal three-month consultation period, hundreds of residents came to see a public exhibition of the plans near the site, 500 questionnaires were completed (all but 7 supportive of the scheme), and extensive consultation took place with public- and private-sector bodies.
British Airways i360 is one of the only major project planning applications in the city’s history that received cross-party unanimous support from the planning committee. It was backed by English Heritage and all the conservation groups in the city, as well as the local business community and tourism sector. An overwhelming number of residents wrote in favour of the project.
Then in 2008, just as the BAi360 was about to start work, the global financial crisis paralysed investments. The depth of the crisis meant that it took 5 years before a new funding package could be put together.
In 2012, the newly-formed Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership pledged support for the BAi360 with a £3m loan (which was eventually increased to £4m). At the same time, Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC), agreed to borrow money from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) to provide a loan for the BAi360.
The PWLB is a central government fund which specifically can only be used to fund commercial projects and is not allowed to be spent on funding essential services or other infrastructure projects. The Council acts as a ‘middle man’ and is able borrow at a very low interest rate and lend the money to the BAi360 at a higher rate, earning a profit on the loan. No council tax has been used and the profit on this loan will earn the Council over £1m per year, which can be used to fund essential services.
In March 2014, the total funding package was agreed. The total project cost is £46m with a £36m 27-year loan from the Council via the PWLB; £4m 7-year loan from Coast to Capital (C2C) and £6m from the management team. To find out more about our funding click here.
In June 2014, the numerous contracts were signed and the project started. Our board was also formed with David Marks as the Chairman and Eleanor Harris as the Chief Executive.
In July 2014, the official ‘groundbreaking’ took place and construction officially started. A ceremonial spade in the ground was planted by the Leader of the Council, Cllr Jason Kitcat, CEO of the Council Penny Thompson; the BAi360 architects David Marks and Julia Barfield; the BAi360’s CEO Eleanor Harris; Coast to Capital’s CEO Ron Crank; the West Pier Trust’s CEO Rachel Clark and the Trust’s Chairman Glynn Jones.
The Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Cllr Brian Fitch, also cut the ribbon to officially open the new West Pier arches shops marking the start of the regeneration of this part of the seafront.
The first stage of the works was for Sussex-based, reclamation experts, Dorton, to remove carefully the remaining landward end of the West Pier, carefully retaining the more ornate columns, to reuse in the BAi360 scheme.
Our hoardings went up with colourful graphics. Meanwhile, Local graffiti artists including Aroe, Rebus, Gary and Radios, painted a stretch of our hoardings on the beach in a live art event.
In August 2014, we began works to divert 120 metres of a working Victorian sewer (serving the whole of Brighton and Hove), as well as 9 major electrical cables, powering around a third of Brighton and Hove; all of which ran directly underneath our site, in order to make room for our deep foundations and the basement of our building.
These service diversions were always in our plans, but we had a few surprises along the way, including finding 3 rogue electrical cables and a 120 metre sea wall buried underneath our site, which was not documented.
To divert the sewer, we firstly built a new section of sewer around our site and then in January 2015 we temporarily “bunged up” the live sewer using a giant inflatable bung and piped the sewage through a flexible plastic pipe – all this was removed once the new sewer pipe and manholes were in place.
In February 2015, we went ‘above ground’ and started piling to create our deep foundations with piles ranging from 13m to 20m deep.
Meanwhile, in various factories around the world, the i360 was being manufactured.
In Spain, the flanges were manufactured. These were welded to the ends of the tower cans, drilled holes for the many steel bolts that clamp the tower cans together.
In Australia, over 100 dampers, were created. A damper is a device used to offset any vibration of the tower caused by the wind.
In Holland, Hollandia prepared the 17 steel cans, attaching all the internal steel work such as ladders, attaching the flanges and including the internal workings of the pod such as the bull wheels, as well as spray painting the cans space age silver to survive the elements on the seafront. In March 2015, the BBC visited the Hollandia factory with the BA i360’s architect David Marks.
In Italy, Sunglass, manufactured the glass for the giant glass viewing pod.
In Germany more than a thousand high strength steel bolts used to connect the flanges together were manufactured, along with the drive system.
In France, Poma designed and manufactured the pod, and in March they hosted a visit from the French president.
In the UK, the aluminium cladding for the tower was manufactured by James & Taylor Ltd. Also in the UK, the restoration works was taking place for the West Pier tollbooths.
During April and May, our construction site became a hive of activity, as the basement was dug out, and the first piece of tower was put in place (the holding down bolt fixed within the steel cage) in preparation for creating the foundations. A large crane platform was also created on the shingle in front of our site using shingle that we have excavated from our basement in preparation for a giant 100m high crane in June, which was used to move the cans from the barge to our site.
On 30 May, the first of four concrete pours took place. In total 4,070 tonnes of concrete were poured to create the foundation from plants in Shoreham, Burgess Hill and Chichester. It was done in stages to control the temperature of the concrete during the curing stage.
One of the most exciting stages of the project was the ‘beach landings’ in June when the 17 steel cans arrived by barge on Brighton beach direct from the river wharf at the steel factory in Rotterdam.
Then – in an incredible feat of engineering – Hollandia bolted the 17 cans together and completed the tower in just 10 weeks. A 62m jacking tower was erected that allowed us to attach a collar around the lower cans, lift them up and slot a new one underneath. On 7 August 2015, the tower became the tallest structure in Sussex and on 23rd August 2015, the BAi360 tower reached its full height of 162 metres.
Meanwhile in September 2015 in France, the 24 hand-made glass sections of the glass pod were pieced together in a trial assembly to ensure it would fit perfectly before they were shipped to Brighton with the first pieces of the pod arriving in November 2015. The glass pod was completed in January 2016.
In November we announced British Airways as our official naming rights sponsor and our name officially changed to British Airways i360 in a five year deal with one this country’s most iconic and respected travel brands. BA operates more than 40,000 flights a year from Gatwick airport where it employs 2,500 people. This partnership has resulted in the attraction being promoted around the world.
Meanwhile work was underway on the 1,500 square metre beach building at the base of the tower, which houses the Belle Vue restaurant, our gift shop, guest toilet and other facilities, plus suites of hospitality rooms and offices. The beautiful reproduction West Pier tollbooths also took shape, which were created by skilled British craftsmen using the same techniques used 150 years ago. The tollbooths house our ticket office and West Pier Tea Room.
As the opening date grew closer, the pod was undertook many test voyages and reached its full height of 138 metres for the first time in June 2016.
On 2 August, the world’s media were invited to a preview flight on British Airways i360 before the attraction opened to the public on 4 August. In just over 3 weeks, British Airways i360 welcomed its 100,000th visitor.