If Bangkok’s administration seriously wants to build the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, it will have to significantly heighten its concept
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration [BMA] is considering installing a giant, motorized Ferris wheel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. “The BMA foresees it being like the London Eye,” Bangkok’s deputy governor, Pornthep Techapaibul, reportedly told The Bangkok Post.
“It will be a giant Ferris wheel with passenger capsules for sightseeing. It will be the tallest in the world, as high as 176 meters and higher than the London Eye—which is 150 meters.”
The proposed US$33-million ring-shaped construction would be one of 16 high-profile civic projects—including a cross-river “Sky Walk” pedestrian bridge and an additional monorail line—organized to celebrate His Majesty the King’s birthday in December 2011.
For various reasons, the idea may need a rethink. For starters, if this hypothetical enormo-orb fit its 176-meter blueprint, it would duly supersede current world-topper, the 165-meter Singapore Flyer. But the Bangkok Eye would still come up woefully short of The Beijing Great Wheel—a 208-meter tall loop in the works (although years behind schedule). So there go the face-gaining, world-record-setting ambitions. (Is it still worth it, one wonders…?).
Authorities are scoping various locations for the Bangkok Eye. British consultants recommended a riverbank setting, and the BMA has been eying the Royal Thai Navy Club. However, the concept is already stirring a nationalistic hullabaloo. Many Thais scorn the idea of a gargantuan carnival ride looming over the capital’s historic center, Rattanakosin Island—where auspicious religious sites, like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, are located.
“How can they think about building it by the Chao Phraya River?” an unnamed MP reportedly ranted to the Post. “Don’t they know that sacred places are nearby? Will they let a tall frame overlook such places?”
Even disregarding fears based on traditional cultural beliefs, the area is a high-risk logistical nightmare. In 2007, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that Bangkok will likely be swamped by rising sea levels. Built on clay rather than bedrock, the Thai metropolis has been sinking at an annual rate. At the time, alarmists even claimed the city would be underwater within 20 years.
“If Bangkok does go underwater it will make a great diving platform or underwater observatory,” cracked one online post, echoing the hordes of disdainful bloggers pouring scorn on the idea across the Web.
Sadly, overlooking the river is Bangkok’s most obvious spot for romantic, photogenic panoramas. However, the current, disastrous flooding of 30 Thai provinces that has, to date, submerged over 500,000 households does not bode well for Thailand’s waterside developments. The emergency nationwide appeal for clothing and provisions for 1.4 million displaced also forces the question of whether US$33 million would be best spent on building a gigantic Ferris wheel…
However, this need not necessarily be the end of the idea. Suggested grounded areas—like the compound of Queen Sirikit National Convention Center—could stably host the Bangkok Eye on dry land.
If the project proved financially viable, there is ample incentive to install an “observation wheel” (as the few modern editions bearing ovoid, motorized capsules are sometimes known). Take the originator: London’s 135-meter roundabout, which is still Europe’s highest wheel. Although an eyesore to critics, the London Eye has undeniably become a major urban landmark and cultural icon. Not to mention the most popular paid tourist attraction in the U.K., since opening for circulation on the South Bank of the River Thames in 2000.
In fact, somewhat preposterously, more people visit the London Eye annually than both the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids of Giza.
“The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody,” wrote Sir Richard Rogers, winner of the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize, of the motorized monument.
“That’s the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London.”
That said, I personally found the experience somewhat underwhelming—both times I volunteered to be overcharged, then clinically cattle-herded into a queue to board one of the space-age gawping-pods. On the first occasion, a timely thunder-and-lightning storm turned the supposedly gentle revolution into a terrifying lap of horror. The second time round was spoiled by gray skies and dots of rain obscuring the view.
Back to the main issue. Unless Bangkok’s authorities want the world’s first underwater Ferris wheel, it seems they would be best advised to abandon any riverside ambitions for their projected eye-in-the-sky. A drier, central location would obviously be preferable.
Perhaps it could then serve as some kind of submerged, revolving periscope—after the city has eventually sunken into the primordial sludge.