Observation structures are a common feature of cities that attract tourists. It gives the tourists a bird’s eye view of the city. New York’s Empire state building, Toronto’s CN Towers, Eiffel Tower in Paris, are few of the many observational structures found around the world. But London can boast about its unique observational structure, which is a giant Ferris wheel.
Located on the South Bank of the River Thames, the London Eye stands 135 meters (443 feet) tall and has a diameter of 120 meters (394 feet). The London Eye was formally inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 31st December, 1999. However, due to technical problems it was not open to public till 9th March 2000. Originally called the Millennium Wheel, it was constructed to mark the dawn of the new century. The idea behind making the structure a wheel was to signify the turning of the century.
A lesser known and a very interesting fact is that the London Eye had a predecessor, the Great Wheel. The Great Wheel was based on the famous Ferris wheel at the Chicago Exhibition of 1893. Construction work began on the wheel in March 1894 and it was opened to passengers on 17th July 1895. It had a diameter of 300 feet, weighed 1,100 tons and a complete revolution took around twenty minutes. The wheel got stuck in May 1896 when passengers were stranded for four and a half-hours. It stayed in service until 1906, by which time its 40 cars (each with a capacity of 40 persons) had carried over 2.5 million passengers. The wheel got stuck in May 1896 when passengers were stranded for four and a half-hours. It was demolished in 1906-7 because it was no longer profitable.
The London Eye was designed by architects Frank Anatole, Nic Bailey, Steve Chilton, Malcolm Cook, and the husband-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks (of Marks Barfield Architects). The Mace Group Ltd was responsible for the management of the construction, with Hollandia Corporate as the main steel-work contractor and Tilbury Douglas as the civil contractor. Consulting engineers, Tony Gee & Partners designed the foundation while Beckett Rankine designed the marine works. The cost of the entire project was around £75 million.
The rim of the Eye is supported by steel cables and looks like an enormous bicycle wheel. The wheel has 64 spoke cables and 16 rotation rims. The lighting was redone with LED lighting in December 2006 to allow digital control of lights.
The construction of the wheel was a tedious task. It took seven years to construct. It was constructed in fragments and the parts were sailed up the Thames on large boats equipped to carry heavy weight and assembled lying flat on platforms in the river. Once the assembling of the wheel was completed, it was lifted into an upright position by a strand jack (an object used to lift extremely heavy objects into an upright position). The wheel was first raised at 2 degrees per hour. When it reached 65 degrees, it was left in that position for a week, while the engineers prepared for the next stage of the lift.
This project was the result of the contribution coming from six European countries: the steel was supplied by UK, which was fabricated by the Dutch company, Hollandia. The cables came from Italy, the bearings from Germany. The spindles and hub were cast in Czech Republic, and the capsules came from Poma, France. The electrical components were provided by the UK.
The London Eye has thirty-two sealed and air-conditioned oval-shaped capsules, representing the thirty-two London Boroughs. Each of these capsules weigh ten tonnes, with the capacity of holding twenty-five people. The wheel rotates at a speed of 26 cm (10 inches) per second and thus an entire revolution takes 30 minutes. as the rotation is slow enough to allow people to walk in and out of the capsule at ground level, the rotation is not usually stopped. It is however, stopped to help disabled and elderly people to board and get off safely.
The capsules are designed in such a way that the passengers get a 360 degrees view. On a clear sunny day, one can see up to a distance of 40 kilometer as far as the Windsor Castle. The most interesting thing about these capsules is that even though there are 32 of them they are numbered from 1-33. For good luck, the number 13 has been skipped! On 5th June, 2008, it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since its opening. On the 2nd June, 20013 one of the passenger capsules was named Coronation Capsules to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The London Eye has an average of 3-3.5 million visitors each year. It is said that the wheel turns approximately 60,000 times a year.
The London was lit up in pink in December 2005, to mark the celebration of the first Civil Partnership performed on the wheel. It was also lit up in the colours of the Union Jack on the occasion of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April, 2011, and also to celebrate the birth of their son Prince George in July 2013. It also provides a focal point for London’s famous display of fireworks on New Year, every year.
The ticket rates are standardized and not costly at all. There are special discounts for children between the age group of 4-15 years. No tickets are required for children under the age of 4. The option of booking tickets online is advisable as there are special discounts. A ride on the London Eye is a great experience, and one that no one should miss.