UK - London - South Bank: London Eye and Palace of Westminster
The British Airways London Eye, also known as the Millennium Wheel, opened in 1999 and is the largest observation wheel in the world and highest observation point in London, offering views up to 25 miles (40km) on a clear day. The Eye was opened by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at on December 31, 1999, although it was not opened to the public until March 2000 due to technical problems. Since its opening, the Eye, operated by Tussauds Group but sponsored by British Airways, has become a major landmark and tourist attraction.
The eye stands 135 metres (443 feet) high and weighs 1,900 tonnes. The rim of the Eye is supported by tie rods and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel, that weights 640 tonnes. The spindle, which is made by Skoda Steel, is 25 metres (82 feet) long and weighs 350 tonnes. The A-frame is 70 metres (229.6 feet) long, weighs 310 tonnes and each leg can take a compression load of 1,000 tonnes.
Designed by architects David Marks, Julia Barfield, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, Steven Chilton, and Nic Bailey, the wheel carries 32 sealed and air conditioned passenger capsules, each measuring up 8 metres (26 feet) in length and 4 metres (13 feet) in diameter, attached to its external circumference. Each double-curved glass capsule accomodates up to 25 people. It rotates at a rate of 0.26 metres per second or 0.85 feet per second (about 0.9 km/h or 0.5 mph) 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 ground level.
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 an upright position by cranes, at a rate of 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.
By July 2002 around 8.5 million people had ridden the Eye. Despite planning permission for only five years, Lambeth Council agreed to plans to make the attraction permanent. Since January 1, 2005, the Eye has served as the focal point of London's New Year celebrations, with 10-minute fireworks displays taking place, involving fireworks fired from the eye itself.
In 2006, Tussauds purchased the Eye, with British Airways continuing its brand association with the landmark. Tussauds, 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.