World’s first vertical cable car will reinvent a city

David Marks, the architect
David Marks, the architect

Nearly 148 years ago, Eugenius Birch’s Brighton West Pier opened as a simple promenade pier.

Nearly 148 years ago, Eugenius Birch’s Brighton West Pier opened as a simple promenade pier that graced Brighton beach.

For almost a century and a half it was unrivalled as Britain’s most fabulous and iconic pier. Tragically, it fell into disrepair. And then catastrophe hit in 2003. A calamity for those involved, but the foundation for its rebirth in the form of a "vertical pier", and a unique collaboration between the West Pier Trust, Brighton and Hove City Council, Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, and the team behind the London Eye.

The Brighton i360 will be the world’s first vertical cable car, here on Brighton and Hove’s seafront. Using tried and tested cable-car technology, it will carry visitors up to a height of about one-a-half-times that of Sussex Heights. All of Brighton and Hove will be at your feet. You’ll be able to look down on the peregrine falcons nesting there, over the beautiful Regency squares, across to the South Downs National Park, up to the Seven Sisters, down to the tip of the Isle of Wight, and out to sea.

At ground level, our contractors will faithfully reconstruct two of the original Eugenius Birch 1866 toll booths, which will become our ticket offices and shop facing the King’s Road.

Visitors will board an 18-metre diameter aero-dynamically shaped pod, which will gently, slowly, and ever so safely, transport them to a great height to enjoy the beautiful view. In the evenings, that view will be accompanied by a welcome beverage.

We have brought back together the team behind the London Eye to build and operate the i360. We are lucky to have been joined by Sussex-based J T Mackley.

Some of the materials used in the building of the i360 are coming from across the water, the Netherlands, France, Italy, or Spain. But the design is a joint effort led by British architects and engineers.

The method of construction is innovative, to say the least. First the contractors have to divert a rather large sewer that currently runs under the site. Then, they dig a very big hole down to the underlying chalk and lay a massive reinforced concrete foundation that will hold up the tower.

In less than a year, two barges will deliver the steel tower in sections directly onto the beach. The top 60 metres of the tower will be erected on the foundation. A 50-metre-high jacking frame will be built around the tower and it will then proceed to lift the tower high enough to slot the next section of tower beneath, before lowering the tower again and tightening up the bolts that hold it altogether. The process repeats until the tower is complete and the jacking frame can be diassembled.

That is then followed by installation of the pod and drive mechanism and completion of the reception building. The technical complexities and solutions that the team have developed are a real testament to their engineering and problem-solving skills.

Our international construction team will provide training for local young people in a whole range of skills and knowledge needed to build a unique structure like this.

The building of Brighton i360 will be comprehensively documented in detail. Every piece that goes into the i360 is being recorded, photographed and filmed. A time-lapse camera on the top of Sussex Heights will repeatedly capture a snapshot of the construction and video images of the project’s progress will be made every day.

When the construction is complete, a piece of Brighton and Hove heritage will have been brought back to life.

After it opens to the public in two years time, we will continue working hard to attract more visitors to the city, and to this part of the seafront, encouraging them to stay longer, and to come back with their friends and families, We believe, with our partners, that i360 will create, not just a great addition to the seafront landscape for years to come, but also a thriving business that will benefit not only the seafront but the whole city of Brighton and Hove.

Brighton and Hove will be reinventing itself again, but showing it can do so and still care deeply for its heritage and history.

We wish to express our thanks and gratitude to all members of the city council that have supported the project over many years also the council officers and their advisers, members of the public and Brighton businesses for their steadfast and unswerving support, guidance and perseverance in making the project a reality. We also thank the West Pier Trust and their members for their trust and partnership.

David Marks is joint managing director, with Julia Barfield, of Marks Barfield Architects. For more information, visit: Follow: @TheBrightoni360