The Merlin Entertainments London Eye (commonly the London Eye, or Millennium Wheel, formerly the British Airways London Eye) is a giant 135-metre (443 ft) tall Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames in the British capital.
It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3.5 million people annually. When erected in 1999, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until surpassed first by the 160 m (520 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006, and then the 165 m (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008. It is still described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel" (as the wheel is supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the Nanchang and Singapore wheels).
The London Eye is located at the western end of Jubilee Gardens, on the South Bank of the River Thames in the London Borough of Lambeth in England, between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. The site is adjacent to that of the former Dome of Discovery, which was built for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Design and construction
The wheel carries 32 sealed and air-conditioned egg-shaped passenger capsules, attached to its external circumference, each capsule representing one of the London Boroughs. Each 10 tonne capsule holds 25 people, who are free to walk around inside the capsule, though seating is provided. It rotates at 26 cm (10 in) per second (about 0.9 km/h or 0.6 mph) so that one revolution takes about 30 minutes. The wheel does not usually stop to take on passengers; the rotation rate is slow enough to allow passengers to walk on and off the moving capsules at ground level. It is, however, stopped to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely
The rim of the Eye is supported by tie rods and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel. The lighting for the London Eye was redone with LED lighting from Color Kinetics in December 2006 to allow digital control of the lights as opposed to the manual replacement of gels over fluorescent tubes.
The wheel was designed by architects David Marks, Julia Barfield, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, Steven Chilton, Frank Anatole and Nic Bailey. Mace were responsible for construction management with Hollandia as the main steelwork contractor and Tilbury Douglas as the civils contractor. Consulting engineers Tony Gee & Partners designed the foundation works while Beckett Rankine designed the marine works
The wheel was constructed in sections which were floated up the Thames on barges and assembled lying flat on piled platforms in the river. Once the wheel was complete it was raised into an upright position by a strand jack system, at 2 degrees an hour until it reached 65 degrees. It was left in that position for a week while engineers prepared for the second phase of the lift. The total weight of steel in the Eye is 1,700 tonnes (1,870 short tons). The project was European with major components coming from six countries: the steel was supplied from the UK and fabricated in The Netherlands by the Dutch company Hollandia, the cables came from Italy, the bearings came from Germany (FAG/Schaeffler Group), the spindle and hub were cast in the Czech Republic, the capsules were made by Poma in France (and the glass for these came from Italy), and the electrical components from the UK.
Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP) assisted the operators of the London Eye, the Tussauds Group, in obtaining planning and listed building consent to alter the Wheel on the South Bank of the Thames. NLP also examined and reported on the implications of a Section S106 attached to the original contract.
NLP also prepared planning and listed building consent applications for the permanent retention of the attraction on behalf of the London Eye Company. This has involved the co-ordination of an Environmental Statement and the production of a planning supporting statement detailing the reasons for its retention
London Eye at twilight
The London Eye was formally opened by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 31 December 1999, although it was not opened to the public until 9 March 2000 because of technical problems. Since its opening, the Eye has become a major landmark and tourist attraction.
By July 2002, 8.5 million people had ridden the Eye. It had planning permission only for five years, but at that time Lambeth Council agreed to plans to make the attraction permanent.
Since 1 January 2005, the Eye has been the focal point of London's New Year celebrations, with 10-minute displays taking place involving fireworks fired from the wheel itself.
In 2006 the Tussauds Group bought out the other two joint owners, British Airways and the Marks Barfield family (the lead architects). Following Merlin Entertainments' purchase of the Tussauds Group in 2007, it now owns 100% of the Eye. British Airways continued its brand association, but from the beginning of 2008 the name 'British Airways' was dropped from the logo.
On 12 August 2009 the London Eye saw another re-brand, this time calling it "The Merlin Entertainments London Eye" to show Merlin Entertainments' ownership. A new logo was designed for the attraction - this time taking the actual form of an eye made out of London's famous landmarks. This also came at the time when the new Merlin Entertainments London Eye 4D Experience pre-flight show was launched underneath the ticket centre in County Hall
During the bidding process of the 2012 Olympic Games, the London bid organisers announced the Olympic emblem would be attached to the Eye for the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
On 5 June 2008 it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since its opening in March 2000.
In 2009 Merlin Entertainments opened a pre-flight 4D Experience at The London Eye, which is included in the ticket price. The newly refurbished ticket hall and 4D cinema experience was designed by architects Kay Elliott working with Merlin Studios project designer Craig Sciba. Merlin Studios later appointed Simex-Iwerks as the 4D theatre hardware specialists. The film was written and directed by 3D director Julian Napier and 3D produced by Phil Streather. The same year the first stage of a £12.5 million capsule upgrade started. Each 10-tonne capsule was taken down and floated down the river to Tilbury Docks in Essex.
The London Eye marked its 10th anniversary on 9 March 2010
On 20 May 2005, there were reports of a leaked letter, showing that the South Bank Centre (SBC) — owners of part of the land on which the struts of the eye are located — had served a notice to quit on the attraction along with a demand for an increase in rent from £64,000 per year to £2.5 million, which the operators rejected as unaffordable.
On 25 May 2005, London mayor Ken Livingstone vowed that the landmark would remain in London. He also pledged that if the dispute was not resolved he would use his powers to ask the London Development Agency to issue a compulsory purchase order. The land in question is a small part of the Jubilee Gardens, which was given to the SBC for £1 when the Greater London Council was broken up.
The South Bank Centre and the British Airways London Eye agreed a 25-year lease on 8 February 2006, after a judicial review over the rent dispute. The lease agreement meant that the South Bank Centre, a publicly-funded charity, would receive at least £500,000 a year from the attraction, the status of which is secured for the foreseeable future. Tussauds also announced the acquisition of the entire one-third interests of British Airways and the Marks Barfield family in the Eye, as well as the outstanding debt to BA. These agreements gave Tussauds 100% ownership of the Eye and resolved the debt from the Eye's construction loan from British Airways, which stood at more than £150 million by mid-2005 and had been increasing at 25% per annum
Sir Richard Rogers, winner of the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize, wrote of the London Eye in a book about the project,
" The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That's the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London. "
Writing for G2 in an article from August 2007, Steve Rose described the Eye as follows,
" The Eye... exists in a category of its own.... It essentially has to fulfil only one function, and what a brilliantly inessential function it is: to lift people up from the ground, take them round a giant loop in the sky, then put them back down where they started. That is all it needs to do, and thankfully, that is all it does.
A predecessor to the London Eye, the Great Wheel, was built for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court in 1895. Construction began in March 1894 and it opened to the public on 17 July 1895. Modelled on the original Chicago Ferris Wheel, it was 94 metres (308 ft) tall and was the first of over 200 Ferris wheels built by Australian engineers Adam Gaddelin and Gareth Watson. 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, and was demolished in 1907
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