Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

Brighton’s i360 tower is a testament to Marks Barfield’s vision and tenacity


To celebrate Julia Barfield’s nomination as Woman Architect of the Year, we are republishing last year’s building study of the i360


Brighton has had its fair share of failed schemes. There was Frank Gehry’s controversial King Alfred project, WilkinsonEyre’s Brighton Marina, Make’s redevelopment of the Brighton Centre, LCE Architects’ Hove Station … the list goes on. So for many, especially for those who protested to get the project pulled, it’s surprising that Marks Barfield’s ambitious i360 even got off the ground.

But today, as the observation tower opens to the public, Brighton is turning over a new leaf. The city has a number of new projects in the pipeline, with Grimshaw and ACME working on a scheme to better connect the seafront with the city centre and Stirling Prize-winner Haworth Tompkins giving the site of Gehry’s scrapped project a second look.

The city’s seafront West Pier site, which had long been dubbed ‘untouchable’, is now the new home of a gleaming observation tower – the latest creation of Marks Barfield, the husband-and-wife team behind the London Eye.

When practice co-founder David Marks approached the council with his idea he was taken to a number of potential sites in the city. ‘We walked straight past the West Pier, and I said to Alan McCarthy, who was the chief executive of the council at the time “what about that site?” but he said it was “too complicated”,’ Marks recalls.

The West Pier had a troubled past. Designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1866, it was the first-ever pier to be Grade I-listed – in 1968. But by the 1970s numbers visiting the UK’s seasides had dropped, the pier had fallen into disrepair and it was forced to close in 1975. It was later bought by the West Pier Trust, which planned to restore it, and after a grant was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund things were looking up for the structure. But in 2003, just weeks before work was due to start, a series of arson attacks gutted the pier and funding was withdrawn. Since then it has remained a burnt wreck and a stark reminder of times gone by.

But now, almost 150 years to the day of the pier’s opening, a new icon sits at the point where it once met the seafront.

‘The i360 cannot replace the pier but it can offer an alternative. Like the pier its purpose is simply to delight, entertain and inspire,’ says Marks.

Tallest UK towers outside London

Tallest towers graphic

Tallest towers graphic

‘It all started with the vision of a persuasive man,’ adds Julia Barfield. It is clear it was Marks’s big idea. He wanted to replicate the experience of the Eye – the slow ascent and glass pods – but at a comparatively low budget: the tower design comes in at a third of the cost of the wheel.

As at the London Eye, the architects came up with the idea then sought the finance, creating a company in which they are 80 per cent stakeholders.

They learnt salutary lessons from the Eye project. Barfield says: ‘We’ve kept control this time. Last time we gave 50 per cent away to British Airways. This time they just have naming rights.’

Having received planning permission in 2006, it has been 10 years in the making, and its construction came as the global financial crisis hit.

‘We’d already bought the steel [for the 162m-tall shaft] and it was waiting in The Netherlands, when we lost our financial backers,’ says Barfield.

So, instead of receiving funding from a bank or venture capitalist, Marks Barfield went to the council. And in July 2012 Brighton announced it would lend the money for the scheme, borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, a government fund that allows councils to borrow money for profit-making infrastructure and regeneration projects.

This method will generate money for the council – it has already received £1 million on account and is set to receive about £1 million a year for the next 25 years. Meanwhile Marks Barfield has also committed to invest 1 per cent of i360 revenues into local community projects. ‘This is a proper public-private partnership,’ says Barfield.

This could be another example of the Bilbao effect – a signal of reviving fortunes in the city

And it is not just Brighton and Hove Council which will see the benefits. This could be another example of the Bilbao effect – a signal of reviving fortunes in the city. Barfield says she hopes the tower will ‘inject confidence and create a ripple effect for the regeneration of the local area’.

The project has already created hopes of building a new pier. Rachel Clark, chief executive of the West Pier Trust, says she has hopes to see the building of a contemporary version to replace the burnt-out ruins of the West Pier. With income from the i360 the trust been able to take office space in one of the nearby seafront arches and are set to restore a pier kiosk as a heritage centre. As landlord of the i360 site the trust receives both an annual rent and a percentage of the turnover. ‘This will certainly make us more buoyant,’ says Clark.

It is unseasonally grey, windy and cold on the summer’s day I visit the i360. The top of the tower is disappearing into low cloud and its aluminium-clad steel shaft matches the colour of the sky.

It has a noticeably different feel to the amusements and fairground of the more tourist-y pier to the East. It has been given the British Airways treatment with glazed screens and anti-terrorist concrete blocks and it’s a shame the toll booths have not been given more of a seaside feel.

Time will tell whether the i360 succeeds in attracting Brighton’s tourists or becomes another eyesore on the south of England’s coastline. But what is clear is that Marks Barfield has vision and persistence.

‘Projects like this and the London Eye have given us the freedom as a practice to think beyond conventional architecture to ways in which, as architects, we can make things better and improve people’s lives,’ says Barfield.

This project demonstrates an almost philanthropic desire to improve. Marks Barfield has invested a lot into this seaside town – not just money but time and care. But what this and the London Eye project that went before show is that with tenacity, architects can succeed as entrepreneurs.

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

Architect’s views

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 is the result of a fantastic example of European cooperation. The team includes many key individuals and firms we worked with on the London Eye and it has been our privilege over the past twelve years to see the commitment, determination and enterprise with which they have turned the designs and plans into reality.

Located at the landward end of the West Pier on Brighton beach, British Airways i360 is a modern-day ‘vertical pier’ whose purpose is simply to delight, entertain and inspire. Its design, engineering and method of construction are innovative, just as the West Pier was in its time. Visitors are invited to ‘walk on air’ and gain a new perspective on the city, just as the original pier welcomed Victorian society to ‘walk on water’.

David Marks, co-founder of Marks Barfield and chairman of British Airways i360

We first experienced what impact that heady mix of innovative Architecture and Engineering combined with a great view of a great city can have on the city at the London Eye. 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 the i360 can have a similar positive effect on another great city. Brighton.

Julia Barfield, co-founder of Marks Barfield and deputy chairman of British Airways i360

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

Source: Visual Air

Contractor’s views

British Airways i360 is a wonderful project. Innovation runs through every aspect of its design – there are so many new techniques used that it is truly ground breaking. But apart from the technical side, this project is special because of the fantastic spirit of co-operation amongst the international project team. Realising a project of this significance through team work and collaborative relationships has been an amazing experience. The British Airways i360 is already an icon, even before it opens to the public. I’m so proud of the result and of the work of our outstanding team.

Nardo Hoogendijk, managing director of Hollandia Infra

The POMA group is proud to have participated in building the British Airways i360. To meet the requirements of its creators,  David Marks and Julia Barfield, we engineered a unique and futuristic observation cabin holding up to 200 visitors per trip. Through the double-curved window panes, passengers enjoy breath-taking panoramic 360° views. The British Airways i360 is a formidable showcase for the technology and innovation we develop at the POMA group and we hope to continue bringing this expertise all over the world.

Jean Souchal, chairman of the executive board of Poma

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield


Section jpg

Section jpg

Site elevation 

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

Elevation of reconstructed toll booth

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

British Airways i360 by Marks Barfield

Project data

Location Brighton
Type of project observation tower
Architect Marks Barfield
Client Brighton i360
Civil and structural engineer Jacobs UK
MEP engineer Jacobs UK
Project manager Jacobs UK
CDM coordinator Jacobs UK
Local project manager and civil engineer Helmsley Orrell Partnership
Damping consultant Max Irvine
Pod consultant Nic Bailey Design
Environmental consultant Loren Butt Consultants
Façade consultant Mott MacDonald
Lighting consultant Do Architecture
Planning consultant DP9
Cost consultant RLF
Main contractor Hollandia Infra
Steel tower Hollandia Infra
Pod, drive and control system Pomagalski
Foundations and visitor building JT Mackley & Co
Form of contract NEC Option A
Start on site July 2014
Completion July 2016 

In numbers

Height of tower 162m
Diameter of tower 3.9m
Height to diameter ratio 40:1
Travel height of pod 138m
Pod diameter 18m
Weight of tower, cladding, ropes, pod and chassis 1,350 tonnes
Weight of foundation 4,150 tonnes
Number of passengers per ride 200
Driving power 160 Kw
Speed of ascent/descent 0.4m/second
Duration of ride 20 minutes
Viewing distance from top 26 miles
Ticket price £15


Readers' comments (3)

  • yet another example of how things can be done - well done Marks Barfield, good stuff....

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Excellent proposal. And Brighton's dynamism makes absolute nonsense of Liverpool's 50 year old 300 foot tall downtown "tower" which is nothing but a chimney - and looks it...!!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • A scaled up version of one of those giant lighting columns at motorway intersections that have a ring of lamps that descends to ground level for maintenance - but whether, in time, it manages to escape being labelled as the only place in Brighton from which you can get a decent view unsullied by a monstrous pole remains to be seen.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.