Ferris wheels had become passé until the London Eye opened. Now cities are building moneymaking landmarks like the Singapore Flyer (above).
When it comes to status symbols, nothing beats a circle. There is a global race to create the biggest Ferris wheel, and while these attractions are built for fun, the stakes are serious. “These wheels have almost replaced the skyscraper as icons,” says Dennis Speigel, president of the consulting firm International Theme Park Services. When the Singapore Flyer makes its debut this month, it will be the world’s tallest, at 541 ft.—at least until late 2008, when the 607-ft.-high Great Dubai Wheel opens. In 2009, the 682-ft.-high Beijing Great Wheel will surpass both.
The larger these monstrous rides become, the greater their capacity and potential profit—and the more seriously builders take them. To start, they don’t call them Ferris wheels. “We categorize them as ‘observational wheels’ because of the capsules,” says Alexander Pieper, spokesman for the Great Wheel Corporation, which developed the Singapore, Dubai and Beijing wheels.
To keep the floor horizontal, motors turn each bus-size glass capsule 360 degrees in one direction while the rim rotates a full revolution in the other. Unlike typical rigid Ferris wheels, observational wheels have cables tensioned as for the spokes of a bicycle. The slow speed allows passengers to enter and exit while the wheel stays in motion.