New Observation Tower Is World’s Thinnest

Brighton’s West Pier comes back to life…as a crazy vertical viewing tower

Brighton's West Pier fell into disrepair after its glory days as a pleasure palace for beachgoing Britons. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
The viewing pod slides up and down the tower, which has been acknowledged as world's most slender by Guinness World Records. British Airways i360
The iconic i360 in Brighton has a height-to-diameter ratio of over 40:1. British Airways i360
Inside the pod, visitors can enjoy drinks at a sky bar and see 26 miles in all directions. British Airways i360
British Airways flight attendants staff the tower, which was designed by the same people who created the iconic London Eye. British Airways i360

For people with acrophobia—fear of heights—seeing the world from above probably isn't high on their priority lists. But for everyone else, the perspective can help shed new light on landscapes that just don’t look the same on the ground. Take Brighton, England. The seaside resort has a pier, historic buildings and iconic chalk cliffs. And now, reports the BBC, there's a new way to view it: the world’s most slender observation tower.

Standing 531 feet tall and just 12.7 feet wide, the British Airways i360 tower opened today in Brighton. It’s being billed as “a vertical pier”—a huge spire surrounded by a mobile viewing pod that “flies” up and down the tower. Designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield, who also created the famous London Eye Ferris wheel, the moving platform holds up to 200 people at a time and is home to a bar and panoramic, 26-mile views of Brighton’s coast. Graffiti by internationally renowned artists surrounded the temporary fences that surrounded the structure before its opening.

It took years to bring the project to fruition. Construction was delayed for five years when the global financial crisis hit England, and workers had to contend with Victorian-era sewers, over 4,000 tons of concrete and 1,336 bolts to create the gigantic structure. Though the tower opened as planned, reports the BBC, a fireworks celebration was canceled due to bad weather. 

The i360 has been widely mocked for everything from its “horror movie” appearance to its suggestive design. The building, however is intended to part of a revitalization effort for Brighton’s historic West Pier, which itself has a checkered past. Built in the 1860s at the height of British beach culture, the pier became a hugely popular tourist destination for its wooden “prom,” or promenade.  Beachgoers enjoyed concerts, tea and other amusements on the pier, but its glory days did not last forever.

During World War II, the pier was bombed along with the seaside city and there were apparently orders to destroy it altogether to ward off a German landing. After the war, it fell into disrepair and was eventually closed due to safety concerns. The pier burned in 2003 and was partially demolished by 70-mile-per-hour winds in 2014. Fragments of the historic structure were even sold at auction this year.

Now, though, officials hope the i360 will become an icon of the area and breathe new life into the West Pier. Sure, it’s not acrophobia-friendly—but the view from above seems mighty fine.

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