London Eye

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London Eye
Alternative names
  • Millennium Wheel
General information
Type Observation wheel
Location Lambeth, London
AddressRiverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road
Coordinates 51°30′12″N0°07′10″W / 51.5033°N 0.1194°W / 51.5033; -0.1194 Coordinates: 51°30′12″N0°07′10″W / 51.5033°N 0.1194°W / 51.5033; -0.1194
CompletedMarch 2000 [1]
  • 31 December 1999 (ceremonial, without passengers) [2]
  • 1 February 2000 (first passengers carried)[ citation needed ]
  • 9 March 2000 (opened to general public) [2]
Cost£70 million [3]
Owner Merlin Entertainments
Height135 metres (443 ft) [4]
Diameter120 metres (394 ft) [4]
Design and construction
Architecture firm Marks Barfield [6]
Structural engineer Arup [7]
Other designers
Awards and prizes Institution of Structural Engineers Special Award 2001

The London Eye is a cantilevered observation wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London. It is Europe's tallest cantilevered observation wheel, [10] and is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom with over 3.75 million visitors annually, [11] and has made many appearances in popular culture.

South Bank district of London

South Bank is an entertainment and commercial district in central London, next to the River Thames opposite the City of Westminster. It forms a narrow strip of riverside land within the London Borough of Lambeth and the London Borough of Southwark,. As such, South Bank may be regarded as somewhat akin to the riverside part of an area known previously as Lambeth Marsh and North Lambeth.

River Thames river in southern England

The River Thames, known alternatively in parts as the Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London. At 215 miles (346 km), it is the longest river entirely in England and the second-longest in the United Kingdom, after the River Severn.

For detailed lists of tourist attractions in the countries of the United Kingdom see:


The structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft). When it opened to the public in 2000 it was the world's tallest Ferris wheel. Its height was surpassed by the 160-metre (525 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006, the 165-metre (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008, and the 167-metre-tall (547.9 ft) 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". [12]

Star of Nanchang

The Star of Nanchang is a 160-metre (525 ft) tall giant Ferris wheel located in the eastern Chinese city of Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi Province.

Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel in Singapore

The Singapore Flyer is a giant observation wheel at Downtown Core, Singapore. It opened in 2008, with construction having taken about 2½ years. It carried its first paying passengers on 11 February, had a soft opening to the public on 1 March, and was then officially opened on 15 April. It has 28 air-conditioned capsules, each able to accommodate 28 passengers, and incorporates a three-storey terminal building.

High Roller (Ferris wheel) Ferris wheel in Las Vegas, Nevada

High Roller is a 550-foot tall (167.6 m), 520-foot (158.5 m) diameter giant Ferris wheel on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, United States of America. Owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment Corporation, it opened to the public on March 31, 2014 and is currently the world's tallest Ferris wheel. It is 9 ft (2.7 m) taller than its predecessor, the 541-foot (165 m) Singapore Flyer, which had held the record since 2008.

The London Eye used to offer the highest public viewing point in London [13] until it was superseded by the 245-metre-high (804 ft) [14] observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard, which opened to the public on 1 February 2013. [15]

Observation deck elevated sightseeing platform

An observation deck, observation platform or viewing platform is an elevated sightseeing platform usually situated upon a tall architectural structure such as a skyscraper or observation tower. Observation decks are sometimes enclosed from weather, and a few may include coin-operated telescopes for viewing distant features.

The Shard skyscraper in London, England

The Shard, also referred to as the Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge and formerly London Bridge Tower, is a 95-storey supertall skyscraper, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, in Southwark, London, that forms part of the Shard Quarter development. Standing 309.6 metres (1,016 ft) high, the Shard is the tallest building in the United Kingdom, the tallest building in the European Union, and the sixth-tallest building in Europe. It is also the second-tallest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom, after the concrete tower of the Emley Moor transmitting station. It replaced Southwark Towers, a 24-storey office block built on the site in 1975.

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 beside County Hall, in the London Borough of Lambeth.

Jubilee Gardens, Lambeth

Jubilee Gardens is a public park on the South Bank in the London Borough of Lambeth. Created in 1977 to mark the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II, the site was formerly used for the Dome of Discovery and the adjacent Skylon during the Festival of Britain in 1951. A multimillion-pound redevelopment of the park was completed in May 2012, just before the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II and the 2012 Summer Olympics, in order to transform it from a state of grassland to a mature looking park with trees and hills. Queen Elizabeth II reopened the gardens in October 2012.

Dome of Discovery

The Dome of Discovery was a temporary exhibition building designed by architect Ralph Tubbs for the Festival of Britain celebrations which took place on London's South Bank in 1951, alongside the River Thames. The consulting engineers were Freeman Fox & Partners, in particular Oleg Kerensky and Gilbert Roberts.

Westminster Bridge bridge over the River Thames in London

Westminster Bridge is a road-and-foot-traffic bridge over the River Thames in London, linking Westminster on the west side and Lambeth on the east side.



A predecessor to the London Eye, the Great Wheel, was built for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court and opened to the public on 17 July 1895. [16] Modelled on the original Chicago Ferris Wheel, it was 94 metres (308 ft) tall [17] and 82.3 metres (270 ft) in diameter. [18] [19] [20] It stayed in service until 1906, by which time its 40 cars (each with a capacity of 40 people) had carried over 2.5 million passengers. The Great Wheel was demolished in 1907 [21] following its last use at the Imperial Austrian Exhibition. [22]

Ferris Wheel the original Ferris Wheel, designed and built as the centerpiece of the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois

The original Ferris Wheel, sometimes also referred to as the Chicago Wheel, was designed and built by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. as the centerpiece of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Imperial Austrian Exhibition

The Imperial Austrian Exhibition world's fair was held at Earl's Court in London in 1906. It opened on 20 June and closed on 6 October.

Design and construction

Supported by an A-frame on one side only, the Eye is described by its operators as a cantilevered observation wheel Ojo de Londres, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-07, DD 028.JPG
Supported by an A-frame on one side only, the Eye is described by its operators as a cantilevered observation wheel

The London Eye was designed by the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks of Marks Barfield Architects. [23] [24]

Julia Barfield,, is a British architect and director of Marks Barfield Architects, established in 1989. Barfield created the London Eye together with husband partner David Marks. Barfield has interest in vernacular architecture, geometry and in the way nature "designs and organizes itself so efficiently". She was influenced by Buckminster Fuller and his beliefs on how architects have a social and environmental responsibility. Barfield remains involved in a diverse array of projects within architecture, including the categories of culture, education, transportation, sports, leisure, and master planning.

David Joseph Marks, was a British architect, and the designer of the London Eye, the British Airways i360 observation tower in Brighton, and the Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens, London.

Mace was responsible for construction management, with Hollandia as the main steelwork contractor and Tilbury Douglas as the civil contractor. Consulting engineers Tony Gee & Partners designed the foundation works while Beckett Rankine designed the marine works. [25]

Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners assisted The Tussauds Group in obtaining planning and listed building consent to alter the wall on the South Bank of the Thames. They also examined and reported on the implications of a Section 106 agreement attached to the original contract, and also prepared planning and listed building consent applications for the permanent retention of the attraction, which involved the co-ordination of an Environmental Statement and the production of a planning supporting statement detailing the reasons for its retention. [26]

The spindle, hub, and tensioned cables that support the rim Hub of the Eye - - 1409599.jpg
The spindle, hub, and tensioned cables that support the rim

The rim of the Eye is supported by tensioned steel cables [27] and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel. The lighting was re-done 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. [28]

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 made by Enerpac. [29] 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 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. [30]


The London Eye was formally opened by the Prime Minister Tony Blair on 31 December 1999, but did not open to the paying public until 9 March 2000 because of a capsule clutch problem. [2]

The London Eye was originally intended as a temporary attraction, with a five-year lease. In December 2001, operators submitted an application to Lambeth Council to give the London Eye permanent status, and the application was granted in July 2002. [31] [32] [33]

On 5 June 2008 it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since it opened. [34]

Passenger capsules

Eye Pod 1.jpg
Each of the 32 ovoidal capsules weighs 10 tonnes and can carry 25 people

The wheel's 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoidal passenger capsules, designed [35] and supplied [36] by Poma, are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors. The capsules are numbered from 1 to 33, excluding number 13 for superstitious reasons. [37] Each of the 10-tonne (11-short-ton) [38] capsules represents one of the London Boroughs, [27] and holds up to 25 people, [39] who are free to walk around inside the capsule, though seating is provided. The wheel 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. 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. [38] It is, however, stopped to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely. [40]

In 2009 the first stage of a £12.5 million capsule upgrade began. Each capsule was taken down and floated down the river to Tilbury Docks in Essex. [41]

On 2 June 2013 a passenger capsule was named the Coronation Capsule to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. [42]

Ownership and branding

London Eye at twilight London Eye Twilight April 2006.jpg
London Eye at twilight
The Eye on the South Bank of the Thames, with Jubilee Gardens (left) and County Hall (right) in the background Aerial view of the London Eye. MOD 45146076.jpg
The Eye on the South Bank of the Thames, with Jubilee Gardens (left) and County Hall (right) in the background

Marks Barfield (the lead architects), The Tussauds Group, and British Airways were the original owners of the London Eye. [43] Tussauds bought out British Airways in 2005 [43] and then Marks Barfield in 2006 [44] to become sole owner.

In May 2007, the Blackstone Group purchased The Tussauds Group which was then the owner of the Eye; Tussauds was merged with Blackstone's Merlin Entertainments and disappeared as an entity. [45] [46] British Airways continued its brand association, but from the beginning of 2008 the name British Airways was dropped from the logo. [47]

On 12 August 2009, the London Eye saw another rebrand, this time being called "The Merlin Entertainments London Eye" to showcase Merlin Entertainments' ownership. A new logo was designed for the attraction—this time taking the form of an eye made out of London's famous landmarks. This coincided with the launch of Merlin Entertainments 4D Experience preflight show underneath the ticket centre in County Hall. The refurbished ticket hall and 4D cinema experience were designed by architect 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. [48]

In January 2011, a lighting-up ceremony marked the start of a three-year deal between EDF Energy and Merlin Entertainments. [49] On 1 August 2014 the logo was reverted to the previous "The Merlin Entertainments London Eye" version, with the name becoming simply "The London Eye".[ citation needed ]

In September 2014, Coca-Cola signed an agreement to sponsor the London Eye for two years, starting from January 2015. On the day of the announcement, the London Eye was lit in red. [50]

Financial difficulties

Colourful London Eye near County Hall Ojo de Londres, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 203.JPG
Colourful London Eye near County Hall

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. [51]

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. [52] 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 on 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. [31] [53] Tussauds also announced the acquisition of the entire one-third interests of British Airways and Marks Barfield in the Eye as well as the outstanding debt to BA. These agreements gave Tussauds 100% ownership 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 charging an interest rate of 25% per annum. [54]

Critical reception

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. [55]

BigCityReview wrote in their review of the London Eye that If you’re an amateur or professional photographer, the London Eye delivers the chance to get breathtaking photos of the city of London. The author explained that London Eye moves so slow, it enables one to have ample opportunity to shoot photos and video from all angles. When one is done shooting photos, the ride’s slow speed lets travelers just sit back and take in the incredible views of London. [56]

London 360deg Panorama from the London Eye.jpg
Panoramic skyline seen from the Eye, with Palace of Westminster and Big Ben to the left, Charing Cross railway station centre, and Waterloo railway station to the right

The nearest London Underground station is Waterloo, although Charing Cross, Embankment, and Westminster are also within easy walking distance. [57]

Connection with National Rail services is made at London Waterloo station and London Waterloo East station.

London River Services operated by Thames Clippers and City Cruises stop at the London Eye Pier.

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Preceded by
World's tallest Ferris wheel
Succeeded by
Star of Nanchang