Global Observer

Melbourne's big wheel of misfortune

Posting in Design

MELBOURNE -- The currently defunct Southern Star Observation Wheel in Melbourne has been criticized as an engineering and commercial failure. Will 2012 be the year it finally gets back on track?

MELBOURNE -–  Since the first Ferris wheel was introduced in 1897 by George W. Ferris, the "big wheel" has become a recognizable and celebrated feature in many urban landscapes. But Melbourne's own big wheel, the Southern Star Observation Wheel, has been a distinct reminder of an engineering project gone wrong.

Touted as the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest Ferris wheel, the Southern Star Observation Wheel was set to be the bright star in Melbourne's skyline, joining the ranks of prestigious world wheels such as the London Eye, Singapore Flyer and Star of Nanchang.

Construction began in 2006, with the wheel opening to the public in December 2008. Some residents welcomed the (AU)$100 million, 40-storey high wheel to the Melbourne cityscape, whereas others were not so kind. Among public discussion on the relevancy of the wheel, the critical question was posed: Did Melbourne really need its own version of the London Eye? Many said no.

In January 2009, only a month after the Observation Wheel was opened, cracks begin to appear in the structure leading to a temporary suspension (It was only later revealed that that the structural problem was caused by an inherent design fault rather than the heat).

Following the closure, a Southern Star Observation Wheel media statement was issued announcing that "extensive design and technical reviews" of the wheel were being carried out, with a decision to re-design. The incident was a very public blow to the designer, Sanoyas Hishino Meisho Corporation (SHMC), a worldwide specialist in amusement and leisure facilities.

Things looked hopeful as a 12-month repair program began to dismantle and replace the wheel. But in November last year, strong winds caused the partially constructed wheel’s arms to break off and spin, sending workers running from the site. Due to work safety concerns the site was once again shut down, and an independent structural engineering assessment was carried out.

In a media release issued earlier this week, the Wheel's management stated: “The design for the brand new Southern Star Observation Wheel is now complete, materials have arrived and works are underway.”

As part of the rebuild, it was announced that SHMC had engaged an international team of experts including Arup and Hyder Consulting in the redesign. Arup is a smart, if not obvious move by SHMC; Arup is a global engineering firm with a track record in delivering two other giant observation wheels in operation -– the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer.

The new Southern Star Observation Wheel will feature a geometry design of a “star within a star”, with a world first LED lighting display and 21 viewing cabins. No reopen date has been announced, but hopefully construction will be completed sometime this year.

Photo: Southern Star

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Lieu Thi Pham

Correspondent (Melbourne)

Lieu Thi Pham is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has contributed to The Age, Associated Newspapers, Melbourne University Magazine, the Big Issue, Dazed and Confused, Indesign Group, Time Out, SOMA and Niche Media. She holds degrees from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure