A Grade I listed site beside water… a Victorian sewer… a top-down construction… there were many challenges and innovative solutions involved in the creation of the Brighton i360. Here’s how the amazing project came together.
The first all-team project meeting was held on June 24, 2014. The key local and international players behind the Brighton i360 were:
Marks Barfield Architects: Headed by David Marks and Julia Barfield, who first submitted plans for the i360 project in 2006. They were previously responsible for the London Eye, the Kew Tree Top Walkway and The Lightbox gallery.
Jacobs Engineering: Project managers and chief engineers of the i360. These global engineers specialise in major leisure facilities including passenger rides.
Hemsley Orrell Partnership: Together with Jacobs, Hove-based HOP managed the engineering of the project. They had previously worked on Brighton Marina.
JT Mackley: This marine construction specialist, based near Brighton, carried out groundworks and built the i360 conference centre. It had previously built the beach’s giant storm drain and strengthened both piers.
Hollandia: Responsible for the steel tower construction, Hollandia had also built the structures for the London Eye, the Gherkin, and Wembley Stadium.
Poma: Tasked with making the i360 pod and drive system, France-based Poma is Europe’s leading cable car manufacturer. It also created the London Eye capsules.
Ground was broken on the beachfront site on July 30, 2014.
The construction team’s first job was to divert a section of the city’s brick-built Victorian sewer to make way for the Brighton i360 foundations. Giant inflatable bungs were used to hold back sewage during the process!
Dilapidated brick arches behind the Brighton i360 were also rebuilt. These are now used for storage and staff facilities.
Around February 2015, concrete piles were put in place in an initial 1.5 metre dig. Then, in summer the same year, came the challenging process of excavating a six-and-a-half metre deep hole for the foundations, through beach shingle and into chalk.
This was made extra tricky because the engineers were drilling below the tide line. Pumps were installed to remove seawater during the process. A vacuum excavator like a giant Hoover then sucked up the shingle and redistributed it on the beach.
The excavated material was replaced with a three-metre-thick reinforced concrete foundation weighing 4,150 tonnes.
Constructing the tower
The 17 tubes called ‘cans’ which form the shaft of the 162m tower were constructed from rolled steel at the Hollandia factory.
A protective weatherproof coating was added and flanges (rims) with 72 boltholes, made by specialists in Spain, were welded on each end to allow the sections to be attached together.
Guiderails were fixed inside for the counterweight which would raise and lower the pod. A stainless-steel rail for abseiling was also added to the uppermost can.
Other inner workings, added later, included internal platforms, ladders, and, most importantly, dampers. These liquid-filled boxes, along with perforated external cladding, minimise vibrations and help the structure to withstand high winds.
Constructing the pod
The beautiful 18-metre diameter glass passenger pod was entirely handmade at the Poma factory in France, the same place that built the London Eye capsules.
The glass panels themselves were created by specialists at Sunglass in Italy, who curved them at high temperature using bespoke moulds.
A clever self-cleaning treatment was incorporated so that rainwater runs off the exterior and keeps visibility clear.
And here’s a fun fact; the shape of the pod is called an oblate ellipsoid. That’s a 3D shape created by revolving an ellipse. It’s like a Smartie but with a hole for the tower to pass through.
Assembly of the tower
The first of the huge cans arrived by barge from Holland on June 11, 2015, and the exciting work began of assembling the tower.
Unusually, the tower was largely erected from the top down. Instead of a crane, which would have needed a lifting capacity even higher than the Brighton i360 itself, a huge 20-storey jacking tower was used.
Built around the bottom three cans of the 17-segment i360 tower, the jacking machine then shunted the upper sections skyward along rails, assisted by a 100m high crane nicknamed T-Rex.
The top can went up first, followed by the second highest and so on, each requiring two days to lift and bolt together. Exterior aluminium cladding was fitted to each section before it was moved.
The tower, constructed by Hollandia, reached its full height on August 23, 2015, just 10 weeks after the cans arrived.
Around this time, work also continued on the beach buildings which now form the Brighton i360’s café, gift shop and flexible convention and events space.
Assembly of the pod
The chassis for the pod was put in place before the building of the tower and later connected to the 80-tonne counterweight inside the construction.
This chassis is hauled up and down by four pairs of steel ropes which run up slots on the outside of the tower. A winch in the basement pulls and releases the counterweight to raise and lower the pod.
After a trial assembly in France, the pod was delivered to Brighton in 48 segments, transported in 30 lorries. It was built on site by a crane in January 2016.
West Pier toll booth restoration
The Italianate toll booths designed by Eugenius Birch, which once stood either side of the historic West Pier entrance, were restored as part of the Brighton i360 project.
The original Western booth was dismantled in the 1970s, but the Eastern booth (then a rock shop) was put in storage in 2012 after it became structurally unsound.
In Spring 2015 a team of experts from Oxfordshire’s Swan Foundry shot-blasted the cast iron sections of the surviving booth to remove the rust.
An assessment found the original metalwork to be sadly unsalvageable. However, the experts made moulds from it to create new pieces, using the same techniques employed for the original booths in 1866.
A year later, the metalwork and timber frames were rebuilt on site with the help of Sussex company Inwood Developments.
The Western booth now forms the Brighton i360 ticket office, while the Eastern booth houses the i360 Café.
Following a series of lower tests, the uplifting moment when the pod first rose to its full 138m height came in June 2016. The brave pod technicians from Poma made the ride in a temporary crow’s nest on top!
The Brighton i360 welcomed its first public passengers on August 4, 2016, and the Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the new attraction on October 28.