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The London Eye began as an entry to The Millennial Competition in 1993 organised by the Architecture Foundation with the Sunday Times. David Marks and Julia Barfield, the renowned husband-and-wife architecture team, submitted their idea for a giant cantilevered observation wheel as a new London landmark to celebrate the millennium. The wheel would stand on the south bank of the River Thames, towering over London’s skyline, and attraction where, as Julia put it, “the trip round is as important as the view”.
Nothing came of the competition, and no winner was announced. But David and Julia weren’t deterred. Tireless work was done over six years, the couple worked tirelessly to make their dream a reality. They spent time and money investing in the very best technology available, including a state-of-the-art computer to model the Eye.
Hundreds of people across five different countries worked to get the Eye ready for the millennium.
The pods were numbered from one to 33, skipping 13 with superstitious passengers in mind. Each pod weighs ten tonnes, as much as one million pound coins.
On 13 October 1999, the 135-metre-tall wheel was erected – officially the world’s largest observation wheel. It was the culmination of Julia and David’s determination and incredible efforts, and an exciting new addition to London’s skyline.
On New Years’ Eve, the London Eye made its first full rotation. British Prime Minister Tony Blair set the wheel in motion, as millions lined the banks of the Thames to witness the spectacle. On 9 March 2000, the London Eye officially opened to the public. The lucky first passengers were competition winners and journalists. They all took a trip in one of the pods and soared above London’s skyline, marvelling at the breathtaking views from the top.
By 2005, the London Eye had officially reached the end of its five-year plan. It was due to be dismantled and moved from its iconic London residence. But the public just kept coming. Indeed, the Eye had become the UK’s most popular paid attraction. So the Eye’s architects, Marks and Barfield, extended its lease in London, securing an incredible 25-year rental agreement with the Southbank Centre.
2020 is an important year for the Eye – it’s their 20th birthday. So many amazing memories and moments have been made over two decades and it is now an iconic landmark in its own right.
Since it was first built, the London Eye has welcomed over 76 million visitors and witnessed over 5,000 marriage proposals. In true celebratory fashion, it hosts London’s legendary New Years’ Eve firework display each year. Every day, memories are made here as the wheel keeps turning at London’s favourite attraction.
With its unrivalled views of Tower Bridge, Big Ben and St. Paul’s, the London Eye has added a modern sparkle to the breathtaking London skyline. Without David Marks and Julia Barfield, the London Eye would have never come to be. Their passion, creativity and resilience is engrained in every bit of the Eye’s incredible design. It now stands as a beacon in the capital – representing the passage of time in a city that never stands still.
And we can’t imagine the city without it. There will be some amazing events happening at the London Eye this year to mark the 20th anniversary. It is hard to imagine that such landmark was actually only meant to be in place for a few years. To see what is going on click here.
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