The wheel thing

Its lease has been extended to 25 years and it’s officially Britain’s top visitor attraction. Ian Scoley re-appraises the London Eye

To my mind, the London Eye is the second most spectacular view in London. This superlative Millennium icon provides an attraction with no intellectual pretensions and one accessible to all, ensuring it attracts as many visitors as possible. Undoubtedly, its river views are among some of the most surprising and unexpected in the city. As you walk down the Embankment, it isn’t the fact that it’s an enormous Ferris wheel that makes it so spectacular; rather how unlikely the whole structure, which was designed by Marks Barfield Architects, appears. Dramatically cantilevered over the river with its capsules suspended on such a fragile structure, it somehow seems improbable that it was erected in the first place (as Virgin gloriously lampooned with its cunning ‘BA can’t get it up’ stunt). Impressive though the views are, the key to the success of the Eye is the whole ‘flight’ experience. It seems infinitely higher when you’re up there than when you’re standing safely on the ground looking up. I enjoy the exhilaration of the vertigo, an emotion exaggerated by Poma’s magnificent glass capsules attached to the outside of the wheel which give a full undisrupted panorama of the city when it reaches its zenith. I have flown on the wheel many times now, but visiting in the height of our British summer I was made painfully aware of how our visitors have to endure that other great British pastime, queuing. The Embankment has a bustling festival atmosphere to it, with street traders and entertainers randomly scattered along the thoroughfare. Unfortunately, random is exactly how the Eye ‘village’ comes across at the moment, as if it’s happened rather than being conceived as a build-up to the big event. The way forward must be to make the full experience as memorable and enjoyable as possible and there are certainly lessons to learn from Disney about making queuing a part of the build-up to the event itself. Currently, one of the major drawbacks is the disjointed ticketing process and the labyrinth of corrals that lead the passengers on to the flight deck, the last section of which absurdly crosses the main riverside walkway. I can’t help feeling that the whole thing would be much more successful if the ticketing hall was removed completely from County Hall. It could be combined with the coffee shops, stores and entertainers at the base of the main support structure as a purpose-made destination, providing a diversion for the family while dad waits for the tickets. There would then be a great opportunity to make more use of the river pontoons to remove the drudgery of queuing. Visitors would have a continuous view of the waterfront while weaving back and forth along the river. They could take time to use strategically located information points en-route to tell them all the facts and figures about the wheel and what to look out for during their flight, without the formality of a ‘museum’. As for the wheel itself, it will endure the test of time without doubt, thanks to its location. And, in case you were wondering, the most spectacular view in London is the eastern approach to Heathrow, flying down the Thames, providing panoramic views of, you’ve guessed it, the London Eye. Transport expert Ian Scoley is a director of Priestman Goode. Various clients he has worked with include Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and Airbus Industrie

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