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, the EDF Energy London Eye and, as of mid-January 2015, the Coca-Cola London Eye.
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It is Europe's tallest Ferris wheel, and offered the highest public viewing point in London until it was superseded by the 804 feet (245 m) observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard, which opened to the public on 1 February 2013.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.
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. Modelled on the original Chicago Ferris Wheel, it was 94 metres (308 ft) tall and 82.3 metres (270 ft) in diameter. 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 Great Wheel was demolished in 1907 following its last use at the Imperial Austrian Exhibition.
The London Eye was designed by architects Frank Anatole, Nic Bailey, Steve Chilton, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, and the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks.
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.
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.
The rim of the Eye is supported by tensioned steel cables and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel. The lighting 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 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. 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.
The London Eye was formally opened by then 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.
On 5 June 2008 it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since it opened.
The wheel's 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoidal passenger capsules, designed and supplied by Poma, are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors. Each of the 10-tonne (11-short-ton) 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 wheel rotates at 26 cm (10 in) per second (about 0.9 kph 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. It is, however, stopped to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely.
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.
On 2 June 2013 a passenger capsule was named the Coronation Capsule to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Marks Barfield Architects (the lead architects), Tussauds Group, and British Airways were the original owners of the London Eye. Tussauds bought out British Airways in 2005 and then Marks Barfield Architects in 2006 to become sole owner. Ownership passed to Merlin Entertainments when it purchased Tussauds in 2007. British Airways continued ed 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 rebrand, this time being called "The Merlin Entertainments London Eye" to show 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.
In January 2011, a lighting-up ceremony marked the start of a three-year deal between EDF Energy and Merlin Entertainments. 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".
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.
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 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. 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.
The nearest London Underground station is Waterloo, although Charing Cross, Embankment, and Westminster are also within easy walking distance.
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.