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Constructing the London Eye



1999 saw a series of commemorative construction projects set to usher in the new millennium. One of the most well-known projects that continues to be a successful attraction 20 years later is the London Eye - the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel.

Costing £75 million to build, the London Eye (originally known as the Millenium Wheel) was designed by husband-and-wife architecture team Julia Barfield and David Marks. The architects took charge of the development themselves, with funding provided by British Airways. Construction management was undertaken by Mace, 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. 

The Eye is a 135m (443feet) tall cantilevered wheel anchored by an A-frame on one side, that leans out over the river Thames at a 65° angle. Six tensioned steel backstay cables anchored to a second foundation hold it in place. At the time it was the largest cantilevered wheel ever built - though it has since been surpassed by the Star of Nanchang in China.

Construction of a wheel of this size was a challenge. It had to be built horizontally, with multiple sections floated up the Thames on barges and lying flat on piled platforms in the river. Once built, a specially made strand jack system lifted it upright at a rate of 2 degrees per hour. 

64 tensioned steel cables connect 32 capsules from the edge of the 120m diameter wheel to the centre. The number of capsules relates to the 32 boroughs of London. Each weighs 10 tonnes and holds up to 25 people. Rubber tyres at the base of the structure turn the wheel at a rate of 26cm per second - giving passengers a 30 minute experience in one rotation. 

The wheel was originally only supposed to last for 5 years before being dismantled. But its popularity meant that it was soon granted permanent status. 20 years on, it remains the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK, bringing in 3 million visitors every year. 

“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.” - Sir Richard Rogers

50 Years of Engineering

To celebrate Fircroft’s 50th anniversary, we’re highlighting a major engineering feat for each year from 1970-2020. Read last week’s look back at the 1998 completion of the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge.

If you’re looking for your next construction and infrastructure job, register your CV with Fircroft today.
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Constructing the London Eye - Time to read 3 min
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