The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London. Also known as the Millennium Wheel, it has also been called by its owners the British Airways London Eye, the Merlin Entertainments London Eye, and the EDF Energy London Eye. As of mid-January 2015, it has been known as the Coca-Cola London Eye, following an agreement signed in September 2014.
The structure is 443 feet (135 m) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 394 feet (120 m). When erected in 1999 it was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. Its height was surpassed by the 520 feet (158 m) tall Star of Nanchang in 2006, the 541 feet (165 m) tall Singapore Flyer in 2008, and the 550 feet (168 m) High Roller (Las Vegas) in 2014. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as “the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel”.
It is Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel, and offered the highest public viewing point in London until it was superseded by the 804 feet (245 m) observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard, which opened to the public on 1 February 2013. It is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom with over 3.75 million visitors annually, and has made many appearances in popular culture.
The London Eye adjoins the western end of Jubilee Gardens (previously the site of the former Dome of Discovery), on the South Bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, in the London Borough of Lambeth.
Designed by architects David Marks, Julia Barfield, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, Steven Chilton, and Nick Bailey, the wheel carries 32 sealed and air conditioned passenger capsules attached to its external circumference.
It rotates at a rate of 0.26 metres per second or 0.85 feet per second (about 0.9 km/h or 0.5mph) so that one revolution takes about 30 minutes to complete. The wheel does not usually stop to take on passengers; the rotation rate is so slow that passengers can easily walk on and off the moving capsules at the ground level.
It is however, stopped on occasion to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to disembark safely.
Structurally, the rim of the eye is supported by tie rods and resembles a huge spiked bicycle wheel, and was depicted as such in a poster advertising a charity cycle race. The wheel is not the first in London; a much smaller Ferris wheel used to stand opposite Earls Court station during the later part of the 19th century.
The wheel was constructed in sections which were floated up the Thames on barges and assembled lying flat on pontoons. Once the wheel was complete it was raised into its upright position by cranes, initially being lifted at a rate of about 2 degrees per 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 the steel in the eye, is 1,700 tonnes.
The eye was opened by British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 31 December 1999, although it was not opened to the public until March 2000 because of technical problems. Since its opening, the eye, operated by Tussaud”s Group but sponsored by British Airways, has become a major landmark and tourist attraction. Recently, The London Eye was voted the world”s best tourist attraction in a poll commissioned by the snack company Pringles.
The eye enjoyed a warmer reception from the British public upon its opening than London”s other significant Millennium project, the dome, although the delay in opening had caused some press scepticism. By July 2002 around 8.5 million people had “flown” the eye. It originally had planning permission only for five years, but at the time Lambeth Council agreed to plans to make the attraction permanent.
Although the eye is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest observation wheel in the world, it is unlikely to keep that title for long. Plans have been announced to build a 170m wheel on the Las Vegas Strip, a 185m wheel dubbed “Giant Wheel” planned to open in 2008 in Berlin and a 200m wheel in Shanghai. (By comparison, the original Ferris wheel at the 1893 World”s Columbian Exposition was 75m high).
Since 1 January 2005, the eye has been the focal point of London”s New Year celebrations, with grand, 10-minute fireworks displays taking place, involving the fireworks blasting from the eye itself.
As of 2006, Tussand”s, British Airways and the Marks Barfield family (the lead architects) had previously owned one third of the eye each, with the airline also providing the original construction loans.
It was also announced in 2006 that the Tussand”s Group £85 Annual Pass could also be used on the London Eye.