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  • 09.26.13

In Wheel Life: Spinning The World’s Largest Ferris Wheel

Introducing a higher level of amusement, Amsterdam-based UNStudio augments the 1893 attraction with a new reality.

When the Ferris Wheel made its debut at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, it was an instant icon. Designed by a man named George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., to rival the structural ingenuity of the Eiffel Tower, the 264-foot-tall attraction represented a technology leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors.

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Since then, however, the design of the state fair staple has more or less remained the same. Ambitions for height have, of course, been matched and surpassed, and the more traditional open-air gondolas have sometimes morphed into schmoozy business party capsules. But the structural part has been a constant.

For their Giant Observation Wheel (GOW) or Nippon Moon project, UNStudio took some liberties with the age-old Ferris wheel model. True, the design, for the Japan-based Ferris Wheel Investment Co Ltd, wouldn’t be mistaken for anything else–and, at twice the size of the London Eye, it stands to be the largest Ferris wheel in the world.


But the Amsterdam architects have managed to spin the wheel into this millennium. Part of doing that involved integrating new portable technologies and innovations, including giant pylons to pin the ride in place. Before the architects could consider their plans for a redesign, the structure was laid out by project partners and wheel experts Arup and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. One of their most substantial contributions to the upgrade is the design of glassy ovoidal capsules. Each one will sport augmented reality (AR) features that promise to transform the typical Ferris wheel experience into a multimedia ride.

“Our conceptual approach from the beginning was centered on the users and their behavior,” the UNStudio office tells Co.Design. “We concentrated on the capsules and the platform … these environments would determine how people would move toward and inside the GOW.”

The augmented reality, which was developed with Experientia, will superimpose movie and data screens over the capsule’s windows, providing users with enhanced views of the lucky Japanese city that gets the wheel. (The site has yet to be disclosed.) The program will also include an app that can be downloaded by riders and enables them to communicate with other pod people rotating above and below.


For UNStudio, fusing architecture with digital media was a way to include everyone in the GOW experience. “The use of augmented and virtual reality in the design brought us into contact with the new technologies that are necessary to implement this kind of interactivity into architecture, rather than merely fitting a screen or a tablet,” they explain.

That’s not all. Riders will have to wait less time in line to ascend the mammoth wheel, thanks to a innovative system the architects developed to eliminate amusement-park endurance queues. In fact, the entire ride will be quantified, with an app feeding data at every stage of the experience, from a countdown till lift-off to how many minutes you have left to enjoy your sky-high respite. So this is the future–fun measured in hours, minutes, and gigabytes.

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.

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