Ain Dubai

Ain Dubai Photo

There’s certainly no shortage of eye-popping architecture in Dubai. And now a record-smashing attraction provides spectacular 360-degree views of it all. Billed as the world’s tallest observation wheel, Ain Dubai opened in October—just in time for the start of Expo Dubai 2020 and its expected throngs of visitors.

At over 250 meters (820 feet) high, the structure is nearly twice the size of the iconic London Eye—a stop-in-your-tracks stunner for Dubai developer Meraas and its Bluewaters multiuse development. To achieve such staggering heights, the company assembled a global team of specialists who leaned into innovation.

“We were pushing the bounds of engineering,” said Darren Brooke, senior technical director at WSP Middle East, Ain Dubai’s lead consultant and architect of record.

The construction team used 11,200 metric tons of steel and installed 192 spoke cables, each longer than a football pitch. It also blinged out the wheel with 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) of LED lighting. All in, the eight-year, €228 million project required 9 million hours of work.

Among the biggest challenges was installing the wheel’s four-leg, 126-meter (413-foot) high base. Because the structure was installed on an artificial island off the coast of Dubai Marina, the team needed to drill into bedrock to ensure the foundation piles could support the 1,800-metric-ton hub and spindle.

And this wheel is built to last, designed to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes. The team also worked with engineers from Italy’s Politecnico di Milano, which analyzed stress cycles to help double the lifespan of the wheel’s cables, many of which provide real-time data to help track wear and tear. U.S. hydraulics systems firm Enerpac helped assemble the wheel on site, while Dutch firm Mammoet used the world’s largest crane to lift everything into precisely the right place during installation.

Now up and spinning, the wheel can hold up to 1,750 passengers, but it’s not your typical 38-minute joy ride. The 48 air-conditioned passenger cabins are each larger than two double-decker buses placed side by side. The team also dreamed up special cabins, including one with a bar in the center of the pod and another that comes with a three-course dinner served over two rotations of the wheel.

Those types of high-end thrills could help deliver on the government’s Dubai Tourism Strategy 2020 initiative, which has a goal of attracting 20 million visitors to the United Arab Emirates each year.

“Dubai continues to be a leader in the travel and tourism sector, with a reputation for delivering pioneering projects and landmarks,” said Mohamed Sharaf, COO of Meraas parent company Dubai Holding Entertainment. And Ain Dubai is expected “to further enhance its competitiveness.” 


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