Is the Millennium London Eye a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

The The Merlin Entertainments London Eye makes Central London resemble a Fun Fair

Following in the footsteps of Britain’s most quoted historians (W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman) we should ask: is the London Eye is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

  • 30m people have ridden in the Eye (@ £17.5 each =£525m) and the owners pay the South Bank Centre £2.5m/year to rent a tiny strip of land. It thus enriches London and Londoners. This is a Good Thing.
  • The London Eye makes Central London resemble a Theme Park: County Hall and the Palace of Westminster have lost their dignity and now resemble toys in a model village. This is a Bad Thing.
  • The London Eye was originally given planning permission for 5 years but was then made permanent, thus enriching the owners at the expense of the public good. This was a Bad Thing.

On balance the London Eye is therefore a Bad Thing and Lord Rogers was  wrong. He declared “The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris”. Lord Rogers is a decent architect but has little understanding or urban design and no understandisng of landscape architecture or geography. The Eiffel Tower does  not dominate the historic core of Paris.
The London Eye should be moved downstream of Tower Bridge, to a site which would not be dwarfed by its scale (eg Chamber’s Wharf). It should also be hoisted by 30m (from 135 metres to 165 metres so that it is higher than the Star of Nanchang (160 m). This would be a Very Good Thing.

Seen from St James Park, the London Eye makes Whitehall resemble a themed hotel in Disneyland

Seen from St James Park, the London Eye makes Whitehall resemble a themed hotel in Disneyland

23 thoughts on “Is the Millennium London Eye a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

  1. David Webster

    The London Eye is a fabulous addition to the London skyline. It’s bold design sits very comfortably alongside (although contextually different from) neighbouring architecture. It is a symbol of a good idea well executed and stands as an inspiration to future designers and engineers, which gives it an almost Victorian quality. The Eye itself brings delight to the many tourists and residents that use it. It offers a perspective of London that only a few with well positioned offices or apartments are lucky enough to see. Anecdotally, I have yet to see or hear a negative comment on the Eye as I travel into Charing Cross by train. In fact, quite the reverse, I usually hear a gasp of amazement from children staring at it with amazement. Without doubt a GOOD THING.

  2. Gethin

    As a tourist attraction the Eye does much for London. It needs to be kept. I agree, not necessarily at it’s current site, but somewhere in central london, allowing majestic views of the city and surrounds.

    Having not been in London long enough to know the south bank without the Eye. What would happen to the space without the millions of tourists who use the eye every year? Another attraction required?

  3. LIZ

    I think the positioning of it is central to tourism trade, and convenient for access
    stations etc…so maximum profit for British Airways, the owners?? Their trade is tourism.
    there are copies of the London Eye now in lots of European cities.

    However it is a blot on the landscape from several viewpoints, and could be placed further
    downstream, but then wouldn’t that affect more historic scapes (Tower of London) and Tower Bridge as well?

    Having heard an Americans’ comment recently that she didn’t realise London city was so
    far from the sea, wherever it is placed gives an aspect of the size of our city, so an alternative site should be considered but only within City boundaries, and not as far as
    Docklands. I agree move it.

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    I wonder what we would have said if asked, in the 1990s, to (1) advise on the choice of site for the London Eye (2) prepare a landscape and environmental impact statement on the proposal for a Ferris wheel opposite the Houses of Parliament.
    We would certainly have needed to brush up on our knowledge of context theory!

  5. Adam Hodge

    ”The London Eye makes Central London resemble a Theme Park: County Hall and the Palace of Westminster have lost their dignity and now resemble toys in a model village.”
    It’s the first time I have encountered this idea and one that, at the top of the ride, is the last thing I’d think. It makes one see and actually enjoy looking at the city in its enormity and variety. SO, can we alter the concept to say it is a Good thing, ”The London Eye makes Central London an amazing vista: County Hall and the Palace of Westminster are seen in the context of the whole city. so on balance the London Eye is a good thing !!

  6. alys

    Neither had i ever before thought of the London eye in this way – as a part of a theme park aesthetic. I agree that the importance of the overall view of the city is so very valuable, especially in a city like London where you can easily feel completely absorbed by city life. To have a different perspective can be very refreshing, but also as a tourist to locate yourself and the landmarks of Central London. As for the location i think it is in a great location – being so close to Westminster the polital centre of the UK and by other great cultural centres e.g. South bank centre NFT etc. . . . .

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    A friend told me, 40 years ago, that Americans view England as a theme park. But there is no need to help them! My suggestion is to enlarge the area of London which attracts tourists by moving the Eye east of Tower Bridge. You can get a decent view of Westminster from street level but you need to he high in the sky to appreciate the wonder of Docklands.

  8. leo

    burn the bloody thing next fireworks night for one big catherine wheel and then open the world’s biggest rollercoaster ride that flies through all the heritage sites of the city or even better a dodgems ride that bumps into parliment, big ben and the like until they are in ruin!

    or yes just move it downstream a little

  9. Benz

    Walking along the north bank of the Thames today at the Embankment I was reminded as to the ordinariness of the scenic quality when looking eastwards of the Southbank. The skyline is dull and vague. The area to the west is far more interesting because of the London Eye. It has remarkable engineering quality, it is unique in this sense. It provides pleasure, amenity and a high quality contemporary point of reference. Wembly Stadium does this as well in some views but it does not have the same visual quality. The London Eye has pants! The designers had pants! The sponsors had pants! For once the planners had pants! So I suggest those who are anti it ‘Put on some pants!’

  10. Christine

    If the London Eye from being temporary has become permanent and is copied by cities all around the world (who wished they had thought of it first) I would say IT IS A HIT. And that is probably a good thing!

    A little more time passing is needed for the ‘newness’ and ‘novelty’ to wear off for the London Eye to claim its iconic status for all time.

  11. Tom Turner Post author

    I remember my Granny taking me to a Fun Fair in Battersea Park: it was wonderful. So another suggestion is to put the Millennium London Eye on the waterfront in Battersea. I know it would spoil the peace of the Peace Pavilion – but it was badly sited and stands in lonely isolation on its present site. Several Thames Landscape Strategies have been commissioned with an emphasis on conservation. The River also needs imaginative design ideas. My proposals are:
    – a scenic quality survey
    – a presumption in favour of conserving the areas with the highest scenic quality (eg Westminster)
    – ideas competitions for the areas of lower scenic quality, followed by planning briefs
    The mistake made in the 1990s was to plonk down the Millennium Eye without the benefit of an imaginative landscape strategy.

  12. benz

    It’s in the best place possible. Good for viewers and it sits well within its area. Occasionally views from within the ‘Zone of Visual Influence’ is slightly awkward, but then this is likely to happen in most places that are physically and visually complex.

  13. Magda

    London Eye is one of the most elegant, beautiful objects in London. It adds quality to the surrounding area, as well as to the London skyline. I do not think it makes it look like a theme park at all, and rather the opposite – gives a good modern addition to balance historic buildings around.
    Great brave idea, good location – in commercial and aesthetics terms. It does not have any negative visual influence on the surrounding urban landscape – I love the view from St.James Park with the London Eye. I do not see the point in moving it downstream – then exactly it would be pushed into the theme park category!

  14. Christine

    Perhaps this is the iconic photograph? [ ]

    It is worth considering that the best thing about the London Eye might not be what it is like to look at, or how it interacts with its context but what it is like to look from.
    [ ].

    This perspective is just a little different from the Ferris Wheel. [ ]and[ ]
    It has become not just a viewing platform but a place…[ ]with endless different uses!
    [ ]

    Seen from this perspective the Eye ties together disparate historic and contemporary elements in its context.
    [ ]

  15. Tom Turner Post author

    A great set of images thank you!
    One of the things I admire about the London Eye is the way the architects, David Marks and Julia Barfield, initiated the project themselves. Waiting for clients to come up with good ideas is a mugs game. Far better for designers to have the ideas and then seek clients to implement them. So if any designers reading this post would like publicity for a good design with a good impact on the landscape: LET US KNOW.

  16. Daniel Sheedy

    I wonder if its not a generational thing. Will the next generation associate the eye with carnival ferris wheels or carnival ferris wheels with the london eye? If we didn’t associate ferris wheels with carnivals we would see them differently not as follies but as the beautiful striking things that they are. I agree with Lord Rogers on this, the Eiffel Tower came in for alot of stick at the time of its construction as well…and why so precious about the houses of parliament? Surely Westminster is a circus by any reasonable definition!

  17. Tom Turner Post author

    Too sadly right about the Westminster Parliamentary Circus. But we should not encourage them! Their job is, or should be, to take serious decisions on serious matters in accordance with the wishes and interests of the people.
    Are you suggesting that this is the BEST POSSIBLE location for the London Eye and that there would have been no point in consulting landscape architects about its siting?

  18. Daniel Sheedy

    ‘Are you suggesting that this is the BEST POSSIBLE location for the London Eye and that there would have been no point in consulting landscape architects about its siting?’

    Actually I agree with you. Somewhere east of London Bridge would have been more appropriate considering all the arguments and I’m quite certain most landscape architects would have been opposed to the siting of the eye at its present location (on a permanent basis) had they been consulted. But actually what I love about London is its unpredictability. It has a kookiness about it that Paris doesn’t have and its all the richer for it. Every now and then somebody does something daft like site a ferris wheel in front of the most famous parliamentary building in the world and it works(sort of). Its a happy accident and dissenting voices are rare so let it be!

  19. Tom Turner Post author

    Good point. W G Hoskins, in The Making of the English Landscape, wrote about ‘the marvelous unexpectedness of the English countryside’ and it applies to London too.

  20. Alison

    I am drawn to the tension between ‘kookiness’ and strategy – ask the average person in the street and they will bristle against a planned landscape because the results are so often sterile. So our job then is to formulate landscape strategy that brings clarity and control over the bigger picture whilst postively encouraging the wearing of kooky pants.

    As to the London eye itself – the current position makes for a great package with the South Bank, the new bridges and even makes the charing cross building seem like less of a mistake. I feel it ties the modern elements together and gives London a vital modern face. It could have looked great in other places along the thames too, but it brings the biggest postive impact where it is. Perhaps we need more (but different)?!

    Finally, the owners should now be charged 10m/year for the land.

  21. Tom Turner Post author

    Yes to quirkyness and unpredictability – not so sure about kookiness. But my general view is to produce a Scenic Quality Assessment, after doing a Landscape Character Assessment, and then make a presumption in favour of conserving the areas of highest quality and improving the areas of lowest quality. So the Westminster Riverside would be a scenic conservation area. See

  22. Christine

    Landscape Character and Scenic Quality are very interesting terms.

    Beginning with Landscape character would Tom agree with the division into natural and agricultural landscapes?

    Natural Landscapes.

    Australian Landscape [ ]
    Canadian Landscape [ ]

    Agricultural Landscapes.

    British Landscape [ ]
    French Landscape [ ]
    Greek Landscape [ ]
    Indian Landscape [ ]

  23. Andy

    I personally think the London Eye is a good thing. It’s actually an observation wheel rather than a theme park ride and as it takes around 30 minutes to do one full rotation it’s hardly a “white knuckle” ride.

    Besides the views that it allows tourists to see of London, in particluar Wetminster and the Thames is breath taking. As these videos show… I think the London Eye is something that is memorable once you have been on it and it allows you to take some good pictures or footage of London that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to take.

    Also, the London Eye is the largest of its kind and there are a number of similar wheels around that world that have run out of funding and are never likely to get finished. Which is a shame.


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