Brighton’s latest tourist attraction – the i360 – is due to open to the paying public tomorrow (Thursday 4 August).
A series of “test flights” – it is sponsored by British Airways, after all – and a number of “soft launches” have taken place as the crew behind the project prepare for take-off.
According to the publicity material: “Groups of up to 200 visitors will glide up gently to a height of 138 metres in a futuristic, fully enclosed, hand-crafted glass viewing pod to admire breath-taking 360-degree views across Brighton, the South Downs and the beautiful south coast.
“‘Flights’ on British Airways i360 will last 20 minutes during the day and 30 minutes after 6pm. Tickets cost from £13.50 for adults and from £6.75 for children, with under 4s free.
“Twelve years in the making, British Airways i360 is the brainchild of architect-entrepreneurs David Marks and Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield Architects, best known as the practice that conceived and designed the world-famous London Eye.
“With echoes of the opening of Brighton’s majestic West Pier 150 years ago, extraordinary vision and world-class engineering has led to the creation of British Airways i360, which has an elegant, modern design that looks to the future while respecting the heritage of the site.”
Chief executive Eleanor Harris – a veteran of the London Eye – said of her role there: “No job could beat it, I thought. Then in 2006 I had a lunch meeting with David and Julia that changed my life.”
She told the press launch: “This has been ten years in the making for me personally. I hope you’ll love it as much as we do.”
Here’s what three others had to say as members of the media took a trip to the top on a fairly murky day.
David Marks said: “Everyone loves a great view. It seems to be a universal desire to see the earth and its cities from exceedingly high places.
“It is a pleasure both 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.
“British Airways i360 cannot replace the much loved and much missed West Pier. But it can offer a modern-day alternative, one whose purpose, like the West Pier, is simply to delight, entertain and inspire.
“Just as the original pier welcomed Victorian society to ‘walk on water’, visitors are invited to gain a new perspective on the city and its setting between the land and the sea, and to ‘walk on air’.
“British Airways i360 is a world first. Its design, engineering and method of construction are innovative, just as the West Pier was in its time.
“It is the result of a fantastic example of European co-operation. We have brought back together key members of the team we worked with to create the London Eye.
“Led by a joint effort of British architects and engineers, the steel tower came from the Netherlands, the pod was made in France with glass from Italy, the beach building, toll booths and tower cladding came from the UK and other components came from Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Austria and even as far away as Australia.
“It has been thrilling to see the commitment, determination and enterprise with which they have turned the designs and plans into reality.
“Locating such a dramatic piece of modern architecture on the seafront at the root end of the West Pier, a Grade I listed structure, certainly challenged the status quo.
“But it also proves that boldness of vision can make a major contribution to the process of urban regeneration.
“Brighton and Hove is again reinventing itself and showing it can do so and still care deeply for its heritage and history.
“We believe, with our partners, that British Airways i360 will create not just a great addition to the seafront but also a thriving business that will benefit the entire city of Brighton and Hove for years to come.
“Today, we would like to acknowledge everyone who has supported the project over the past 12 years since the very first meeting with the council in spring 2005.
“It has been a fantastic team effort and we would like to pay tribute to all the people that have contributed to making British Airways i360 a reality.
“We feel very proud, and even a little sentimental, about what the team has achieved, everyone’s role in it and their outstanding contribution, in reaching today’s goal.
“It just goes to show that if enough people fight for something, hard enough, many seemingly impossible things can happen.
“As Nelson Mandela said: ‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’”
West Pier Trust chairman Glynn Jones described it as an “enormously significant event in the life of the city of Brighton and Hove’s seafront regeneration – an event that signals that the city is once again embracing and celebrating world-class stunning architecture”.
He said: “It is particularly poignant that this year we are also celebrating the 150th anniversary of the opening of Eugenius Birch’s West Pier in 1866.
“The pier was an amazing structure and was recognised as the most important pier in the UK and the first one ever to be Grade I listed.
“Tragically that pier was destroyed in 2003 in two arson attacks and lottery funding for its restoration was withdrawn.
“This city has always embraced the new and at the same time celebrated its history.
“The West Pier Trust were therefore delighted when approached by Marks Barfield in 2005 with the concept of a ‘vertical pier in the sky’ – and the i360 was born.
“The British Airways i360 is built on the very spot occupied by the former West Pier and it is, therefore, very appropriate, thanks to Marks Barfield, that we have in pride of place two beautiful replicas of the original West Pier toll booths.
“These have been built using Birch’s complex designs and have been painstakingly recreated to function as the new ticket offices.
“I wish to pay tribute to the board of the West Pier Trust, its chief executive Rachel Clark, and the hundreds of trust members who have loyally supported the British Airways i360 project over the last 12 years.
“The West Pier Trust is proud to be the landlord of the British Airways i360 and we applaud the way in which this truly amazing ‘pier in the sky’ succeeds in respecting the past while also looking to the future.”
Councillor Gill Mitchell spoke for Brighton and Hove City Council. She said: “The i360 is the biggest tourist attraction to be built in the city for well over a hundred years – and, just like its predecessors, represents the pinnacle of modern, innovative coastal engineering.
“The Marks Barfield design follows a tradition of groundbreaking engineering along Brighton’s seafront dating back to the mid-19th century which included Eugenius Birch’s stylish West Pier built with its toll booths, that have now been faithfully recreated as part of this project, Magnus Volk’s electric railway and Philip Cawston Lockwood’s beautiful creations – the Madeira Terraces and Birdcage Bandstand.
“Over ten million day trips and nearly five million visitor nights are spent in Brighton and Hove each year.
“With a visitor spend of over £800 million, our visitor economy supports 20,000 jobs and is a vital part of the wider city economy.
“Brighton and Hove’s seafront requires constant renewal if we are to remain as a top coastal visitor destination – and the i360 will play a key role as a flagship seafront landmark for the city, attracting both visitors and new investment.
“And we know that the i360 is already attracting new attention to our city, not just nationally but internationally.
“If it makes only a fraction of the impact that the London Eye has had upon London, then we will gain a huge amount in terms of highlighting Brighton as a global visitor destination.
“It is really pleasing to see that so many local companies are supporting the entire i360 operation – Nyetimber Sussex wine on the evening flights, Brighton Gin, South Downs Water and local artists and photographers are among the many local businesses that will benefit.
“Over a hundred new jobs have been created, all paid at least the Brighton and Hove Living Wage, something which unfortunately remains unusual for the tourist and hospitality sector.
“The construction and opening of the i360 signal a renewed confidence in our city as a place to invest and do business.
“Like the London Eye before it, the i360 has won the backing and branding of British Airways, a global airline, showing the confidence this major British business has in the project.
“It is a signal too of our ambition to work ever more closely with Gatwick and the airline industry in the south east on growing jobs, skills and our city economy.
“Over the past year the city council has commenced a major investment programme which will see more than £1 billion invested in our seafront.
“This investment will deliver jobs, commercial space and homes, as well as maintaining Brighton and Hove’s place as one of the UK’s top visitor and conference destinations.
“The i360 will support this wider seafront investment programme by paying the council around £1 million each year, money which will help fund the continued renovation and maintenance of the rest of our seafront.
“This is paid in return for the council acting as guarantor for the £36 million loan from the government which paid towards its construction. I think it is important to clarify that the money did not come from the council’s bank account and could not have been spent on other things.
“And the first payment will be spent on new public realm landscaping either side of the new attraction which will provide a high-quality and attractive setting with new lighting, seating and wonderful heritage additions.
“Work on this will start in January and be complete for next summer’s season.
“Exactly like our Victorian piers, bandstands and terraces, the i360 has been built to bring tourists and their money to Brighton and Hove – vital at a time when we need revenue from business rates and shop rents to fund our services as 40 per cent of our funding is cut by government.
“And we need to focus more than ever on promoting the successful growth of our incredible city.
“In these uncertain times, we should have ambitions to be a global city, with icons from the past like the Pavilion and of the future through the i360.
“Brighton and Hove has always faced outwards, with only the short distance of the English Channel separating us from France and mainland Europe.
“Our city has always changed to meet the challenges of the times, balancing the best of our past while looking forward to the future.
“I’m sure that the i360 will be a central part of our city’s continued success.”
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