New heights: my flight up the new BAi360

BAi360, Brighton
BAi360 reaching up opposite the remains of the historic pier, image British Airways

A triumph of high-tech engineering on East Sussex coastline, designed by Marks Barfield

by Harri Närhi

In many ways, going up the i360 in Brighton, or the world’s tallest moving observation tower, is akin to flying. The whole experience is heavily mediated by the idea of air travel, visitors are greeted onto their ‘flight’ by British Airways staff acting as if to take you on a faraway journey, and indeed the view itself is something achieved only by an impressively high vantage point. i360 architects David Marks and Julia Barfield, creators of the world-renowned London Eye, have managed to deliver an experience so awe-inspiring it leaves you craving for more than your afforded 20-minute slot. The i360 might have taken a total of 12 years to conceive, but there’s a sense that it’s here to stay, and will ascend to the front stage of successful 21st century British landmarks.

i360, Brighton
The seafront by the BAi360 has been renovated and improved, photo: Harri Närhi

My visit was blessed with clear blue skies and sunshine, allowing for almost unhindered maximum visibility if it wasn’t for the masses of camera-wielding tourists. The weather conditions were almost too good, as the harsh sunlight created glaring reflections in every attempted snapshot. Perhaps the experience would be more enjoyable if there was less pressure to cram in as many photos from every possible angle, and more time to observe the smoothly shifting landscape. Aside from being a stunning work of modern architecture and design, the i360’s main selling point is the unparalleled outlook onto the whole of Brighton and its surroundings- including the South Downs national park, the English Channel, and (apparently) on a clear day, the tip of the Isle of Wight.

BAi360, Brighton
The capsule can also be hired for private events, photo: British Airways

Designed so that you can barely feel it move, the i360 glides smoothly to a height of 138 metres, before pausing for a few minutes and descending back to ground level. The sheer variety of natural and constructed scenes possible from the i360 entirely justify building it in Brighton, as few other places combine so stunningly elements of natural and urban life. Ten times the size of a London Eye pod, the i360 feels massive yet secure, and combines extreme height with a tangibly smooth journey that has the potential to cure a fear of heights.

BAi360, Brighton
Below the capsule is covered with a reflecting mirror, photo: Harri Närhi

However, the i360’s journey to where it is now did not come without its problems, and any visit to Brighton makes evident why. Famous for its Victorian and Regency-era buildings, Brighton has a distinct architectural identity and along with it being a historic seaside tourist destination, there is a quintessentially English character to the city. Along comes the i360: a massive, daunting, futuristic lollipop plonked right onto prime Brighton seafront. Before being built, the i360 faced considerable backlash from the local community, many complaints focusing on its garish inability to blend into the surrounding atmosphere. Indeed the London Eye fits more comfortably in a modern metropolis already cosy with the idea of tall glass skyscrapers, whereas in Brighton, the i360 is the only thing like it for miles.

Although it attracts controversy and continues to play a visually prominent role on an otherwise relatively homogenous Brighton seafront, the i360 has already made its mark in the worlds of architecture, design and tourism. Whether it stands the test of time and continues to attract tourists throughout England’s rainier seasons remains to be seen.

Löyly Sauna by Avanto Architects, photo ©Ḳuvio

Helsinki waterfront hotspot – Löyly Sauna

A new take on a favourite summer ritual – the most spectacular public sauna by Avanto Architects

Löyly sauna by Avanto Architects
Wooden terrace constructed over the water, photo ©Kuvio

During high summer, from mid-June to mid-July, sun hardly sets down in the Finnish capital. Many locals escape to their waterside cottages to enjoy the long days. But now there is one more reason for staying in the city. The latest architectural hotspot is Löyly, a public sauna with a bar and restaurant designed by Avanto Architects on the Southern waterfront – literally the hottest meeting place this summer.

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Magic in brick – new Tate Modern extension

The new extension of Tate Modern, designed by Herzog de Meuron, is now open to the public. In twenty years the museum became so popular more space was needed. The extension tower, which cost £260m, fits there beautifully .

“We did not set out to build an iconic building”, Tate director Nicholas Serota states before the opening of the new extension. But of course it will be. It is designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the Swiss architects who had already transformed the derelict power station into Tate Modern. It has since become the world’s most visited museum for modern and contemporary art, making London a global cultural centre.

Switch House extension, Tate Modern
Close-up of façade, built with sheets of brick panels

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Serpentine Summer Pavilion 2016 by Bjarke Ingels, Kensington Gardens

Serpentine Pavilion 2016 – collaboration in work, play and experiment

Not only one sculptural wonder by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, this summer Serpentine Gallery brings along four experimental designs to London’s Kensington Gardens. The show which opened to the public over the weekend is the last one by long-term director Dame Julia Peyton-Jones, encapsulating her drive and vision.

Serpentine 'Summer Houses'
Serpentine ‘Summer Houses’ by architects Kunlé Adeyemi and Barkow Leibinger

The Summer Pavilion concept is an opportunity for the chosen architect to experiment with forms in one of the most prestigious parks in central London. This year Bjarke Ingels – described by Serpentine director Hans Ulrich Obrist as ‘the first architect disconnected completely from angst’ – has made the most of the Pavilion commission, playing with scale and materials. Despite the short timeframe to complete such a project, you can see the clarity and enthusiasm in Ingels’ approach. With his firm BIG he spent exactly six months (to the minute by midnight of the launch) to complete the Pavilion. At the preview morning the last set of fibre glass blocks were still waiting to be lifted to the very top.

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Venice Biennale 2016 © Luke Hayes

New Materialities – Reporting from Venice

Powerful ideas showcased at 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, which launched last weekend, for rediscovering the desire for architecture.

Alejandro Aravena, the Chilean curator of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, says of the programme that it’s not “a caricature, or a biennale for the poor”. Although, on many levels, the Biennale resonates with values of the 1960s Arte Povera movement, challenging current economic systems, while also promoting the return to simpler materials and architectural concepts. Aravena urges architects to consider more carefully what they build, not making something “ just because you can”.

Pavilion at Giardini by Chilean architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen, photo ©Luke Hayes
Pavilion at Giardini by Chilean architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen, photo ©Luke Hayes

  It’s the lesser known architects that propose the more engaging and ground-breaking ideas 

The exhibits provide a wide range of responses to Aravena’s overarching theme Reporting from the Front.  On the grounds of the Giardini there are thirty national pavilions and the exhibitions, which Aravena describes as “conversations” on the battles and challenges we face improving our urban environments, continue inside the Arsenale ship yards and across the city. The Central Pavilion hosts a group exhibition, including projects by Renzo Piano, Kéré Architects, Richard Rogers and Kazuo Sejima, although it’s the lesser known architects that propose the more engaging and ground-breaking ideas.

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 360º VIEW: Installation by Gabinete de Arquitectura

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Futuro House

Futuro House – ideas and principles in 1960s spatial design

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LONDON FESTIVAL OF ARCHITECTURE – 9 June 2016, 18.45 – 20.00

At Central Saint Martins, King’s Cross, London N1

An evening talk with artist Craig Barnes and academic staff from Central Saint Martins Spatial Practices Programme. This will also be an opportunity to visit Futuro House, an icon of 1960s futuristic space-age architecture, restored and transported to London by Barnes and now housed on the CSM rooftop.
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