Last week we looked at why observation towers have become so popular around the world; an exhilarating and fascinating change in perspective now being one of the ‘must-do’ activities for any visitor to a town hosting one of these lofty platforms.
We also looked at how towers have a second level of importance; standing head and shoulders above the city means they can easily become a symbol or icon, particularly if they have a pioneering design.
This week we are looking at experience. Skyscrapers are getting higher and higher, and though height is important for an observation deck, it is not the only thing that compels people to travel to the viewing deck at the top of a building. It is the experience offered by the observation towers that make them so fascinating and exciting, and this week we are looking at how four other towers in the UK have ‘enhanced the view’ by making more of the experience.
Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth
The Spinnaker Tower, at a height of 170 m above sea level, is one of the tallest accessible structures in the United Kingdom outside London and is a member of Great Towers. The unique structure is designed to look like sails billowing in the wind – a key link to the maritime history of Portsmouth – and it is owned by the city. It has been hugely successful and has become an icon for the south coast.
Viewing towers in London have a plethora of easily-identifiable buildings, but if you move outside of the capital city, it is important to help people understand what they are looking at. Visitors to the Spinnaker can enjoy three different viewing decks and their experience is enhanced through audio guides and interactive touch-screens that that draw focus to the maritime aspect of Portsmouth. There is even a gadget that helps you see which ships are coming and going!
As we progress the i360, we are already looking at how we can make the view interactive. Whether it is a link with the UNESCO biosphere to help visitors understand how the downs, city and sea link together, or through partnerships within the city, encouraging people to visit areas or buildings that they spotted and learnt about whilst in the tower. We will even have a host on board who can provide a commentary tailored to the group, so you can learn more about the architecture or history or engineering… whatever your preference.
The Blackpool Tower is based in the north west of England and is a Grade I listed building, based on the Eiffel Tower. It opened in 1894 and has seen several updates, the most recent one in 2011 when the whole complex was renovated. It is iconic to the city and the north west and creates an enormous amount of revenue for Blackpool Council.
The Blackpool Tower Eye has a viewing platform at 122m and a five centimetre thick glass viewing platform at 116m that runs along one wall. On a clear day you can see as far as the Lake District, Wales and Liverpool. What makes Blackpool such a great destination though, is more than just this spectacular view. Their USP is the history of the site. Although observation platforms were popular in 1894, so was dancing. The Blackpool Tower Ballroom sits at the base of the tower – an architectural feat in its own right – a stunning setting of Victorian splendour. Dancers have whirled around the room for over a century and it has long attracted the world’s best movers, particularly with Strictly Come Dancing staging one of their broadcasts from the room.
Linking the viewing experience with the history of the location is close to our hearts. The i360 is based on the site of the West Pier and we are going to be using lots of salvaged parts within our base building. The old ticket booths will be resurrected in their original spots on the Kings Road (one is being repaired and one is being faithfully copied) and there will be some of the old columns in our base building. Like Blackpool, we plan to embrace the heritage of our site and make sure visitors can enjoy both the modern and historical aspects.
And though we may not have a Victorian ballroom at the bottom of our tower, our event space has been designed to take advantage of what we do have downstairs… the beach. We will have event rooms with private decks as well as a brasserie restaurant – all perfect for parties, dining out and people watching! We will also have a kids soft play area and exhibition space.
We have looked at how towers embrace the history of a site and a city, but what about a new site and a new tower? The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a 114.5 metre (376 feet) tall sculpture and observation tower designed by Sir Anish Kapoor. It was built as part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London and was intended to be a lasting legacy of our Olympic and Paralympic Games.
There are two observation platforms from which visitors can look over the Olympic site. You can take a lift up to the highest, at 80m, but it is recommended that you descend via the stairs so that you can see how the view changes and hear the ‘sounds of London’. There are interactive viewing opportunities to help you understand the view and the chance to try the distinctive Kapoor-designed concave mirrors that will flip your perspective and turn the horizon on its head.
The idea of challenging people with a complex design is exciting to us too. The ArcelorMittal Orbit is the UK’s largest piece of public art and the whole experience encourages you to explore what you are looking at – whether it is London from a new angle, the sculpture itself from the various heights or the topsy-turvy mirrors – it gets you talking! The i360 will do the same – we are using complicated and innovative engineering techniques to create a tower that will seem to defy gravity. It is so slender, yet it can carry a huge glass pod full of 200 freestanding individuals. How?!
What tower discussion could be complete without reference to the View from the Shard?! This is the UK’s tallest tower and viewing platform, part of the Shard skyscraper – described as a vertical city where people could live, work and relax. It comprises world-class offices, award-wining restaurants, the 5-star Shangri-La Hotel, exclusive residences as well the viewing tower.
There are three different viewing platforms with stunning 360° views, multimedia displays and digital telescopes to help you understand what you can see. Stairs lead up to Level 72, where you can get out in the elements and stare up at the sharp pinnacles of glass – the reason the building is called the Shard.
We began this blog by saying that height is not the only important thing, and that people don’t just want to look out at the view, but we didn’t touch on the important accolade of being the tallest, and how this USP can become the main part of a bigger experience. The Shard has interactive commentaries and ways to focus in on the city below, but for them, it is all about height.
We are the world’s tallest moving observation tower. When Marks Barfield designed the tower, they made sure we went just that little bit taller than the London Eye. Quite simply, people love to get to the top and the i360 not only takes them there, it provides a space in which they can do more than just look at the view: an evening Sky Bar for you to enjoy a drink; a private space for up to 200 so that you can get married or host a special party; a unique event space for theatre or music… all at the top of the tallest moving observation tower. That is a pretty unique USP.