The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames. The entire structure is 135 metres tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres. 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.
The London Eye adjoins the western end of Jubilee Gardens, on the south bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, in the London Borough of Lambeth.
When erected in 1999, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until it was surpassed first by the 160-metre Star of Nanchang in 2006 and then the 165-metre Singapore Flyer in 2008.
It provides the highest public viewing point, and is the 20th-tallest structure in London. 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”.
The wheel rotates at 26 cm per second (about 0.9 km/h) so that one revolution takes about 30 minutes. It 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 London Eye, or Millennium Wheel, was officially called the British Airways London Eye and then the Merlin Entertainments London Eye. Since 20 January 2011, its official name is the EDF Energy London Eye following a three-year sponsorship deal.
The project was European with major components coming from six countries: the steel fabricated in the Netherlands, and the electrical components were supplied from the UK; the cables and the glass for the French-made capsules came from Italy; the bearings came from Germany; and the spindle and hub were cast in the Czech Republic.
The lighting was redone with LED lighting in December 2006 to allow digital control of the lights as opposed to the manual replacement of gels over fluorescent tubes.
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 lifted into an upright position by a strand jack system. It was first raised at 2 degrees per hour until it reached 65 degrees, then left in that position for a week while engineers prepared for the second phase of the lift.
The wheel’s 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoid passenger capsules are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors. Each of the 10-tonne capsules represents one of the London Boroughs, and holds up to 25 people, who are free to walk around inside the capsule, though seating is provided.
The London Eye 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.