Whenever I pass the London Eye, the great Ferris Wheel on the South Bank, I marvel at its audacity and reflect that the original planning permission for its construction envisaged it would be dismantled in 2005.
It was designated the Millennium Wheel, and intended to mark the start of a new epoch. Now it’s become an integral part of the 21st-century London skyline, even though it has been superseded as the tallest viewpoint by the Shard observation deck and is no longer the largest Ferris wheel in the world, an accolade successively claimed in Nanchang, Singapore and Las Vegas.
The concept and the construction process were daring. The husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks enlisted a team of specialists to construct the components downstream and float them to the South Bank location for assembly.
Manufacture was, appropriately for the period, a European enterprise, involving contractors from the UK, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy.
Raising the wheel took two weekends. During the intervening week it was held at a seemingly precarious angle of 65° over the river.
Its ceremonial opening by Tony Blair on New Year’s Eve 1999 was a deception: technical problems delayed public access until the following March.
The Daily Telegraph’s architecture critic, Giles Worsley, complained in 2002 [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3574331/Pull-down-the-London-Eye.html] about plans to retain the Eye, as it had become known, and suggested moving it to Crystal Palace.
Lambeth Borough Council, however, was never likely to reject such a successful tourist magnet on its patch.
By 2015 it had had 60 million visitors, 5,000 of whom have proposed marriage during their half hour spin on the wheel.
It has repeatedly changed ownership since 2000, and has been rebranded at frequent intervals.
It has to make money, and it brings money to the South Bank.
It’s difficult to imagine London without it.