Combining high-tech modernism with a somewhat incongruous Victorian seaside vibe, British Airways i360 has opened in the southern English city of Brighton.
LONDON — It has been billed as “the world’s tallest moving observation tower,” a futuristic 531-foot-high structure that will give visitors an experience that one of its creators likened to floating in a hot-air balloon.
Combining high-tech modernism with a somewhat incongruous Victorian seaside vibe, the tower, British Airways i360, opened Thursday in the southern English city of Brighton.
Visitors who pay the general admission fee of 15 pounds, or about $20, can ride about 10 minutes up a slender steel spire in a glass pod to admire sweeping views of the Sussex coastline.
As with many ambitious architectural projects through the ages, praise for the tower has been as thin as the structure itself.
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The litany of complaints includes criticism about the tower’s aesthetics — some have compared its shape to that of a sex toy — to accusations that the tower is a monumental and glorified marketing tool. It has been variously described as a “supersized lollipop,” a “bonkers, outsize flagpole,” a doughnut on a stick or simply as an “iSore.”
It didn’t help that the opening was marred by long lines, prompting one critic to note on Twitter that the British Airways i360 was “striving for the true airport experience — right down to the delays to your flight!”
The structure has also attracted admirers, who have marveled at what they call its minimalist beauty, especially when lit at night. Yet to many, its function trumps form, with the view from the top being heralded over the view of the tower itself.
The attraction, which cost 46.2 million pounds (about $60.6 million) to build, is the brainchild of David Marks and Julia Barfield, the husband-and-wife team of architects behind the London Eye on the South Bank of the Thames. The Eye, a towering Ferris wheel, is one of the most popular attractions in the capital, and it has helped to revitalize the area.
The couple, who have been working on the i360 project for more than 12 years, estimated the attraction — which includes what the tower’s website calls the world’s first vertical cable car — would attract 800,000 visitors annually, create jobs and help regenerate an area once occupied by the now-dilapidated West Pier, which was built in 1866.
In a statement on their firm’s website, Marks and Barfield trumpeted the tower as a “vertical pier” and said it would provide a new perspective on the city, just as the West Pier had invited Victorian society to “walk on water.”
Not everyone is convinced.
Valerie Paynter, a member of a conservation group in the area and an outspoken opponent of the project, called it “a massively thuggish presence.”
“It domineeringly bullies the eye away from the grand, unbroken expanse of our seafront, blessed as it is in parts with formal Regency splendor from the early 19th century,” she said in an interview. “There is no avoiding that industrial, chimneylike pole, which mostly just stands there pointlessly — alien and ugly — except when mist and cloud roll in off the sea. Then it’s invisible.”
Robert Clewlow, who is studying international security and terrorism at the University of Nottingham, suggested the structure, regardless of its engineering prowess, was a bad fit for the relatively intimate environment of a small city like Brighton.
“I appreciate the feat of engineering that went into building the i360,” he wrote on Twitter, “but it just doesn’t suit Brighton, better off in a bigger city.”
Whatever the critics might say, the tower — whose 90-ton pod can hold up to 200 people at a time — has already earned its place in Guinness World Records as the most slender tower in the world, with a diameter of just 12.7 feet.