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07.07.2014
Topping Out in Vegas
High Roller, the world's tallest Ferris wheel, opens to the public.
Denise Truscello

When planning the LINQ, the new outdoor entertainment complex adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip, Caesars Entertainment worried that they might have trouble pulling visitors off the beaten path.

“They knew they had the people, they just needed the draw,” explained Arup’s Jason Krolicki. So Caesars commissioned an impossible-to-miss anchor: the High Roller, a 550-foot-tall observation (Ferris) wheel. The wheel, which opened March 31, is the world’s tallest, a full 107 feet higher than the London Eye and seven feet above the Singapore Flyer. But while its height is impressive, what really makes the High Roller stand out is its thin structure and minimal footprint.

Denise Truscello
 

“Throughout the process our goal was how to minimize the structure, slim things down so it became as pure of a circle as possible,” said The Hettema Group’s John Kasperowicz, the project’s design architect. Above all, the architects wanted to maximize views from the wheel. They designed the cabins as near-spheres rather than as pill- or can-shaped cylinders (as on the London Eye and Singapore Flyer, respectively). To further reduce the structure, the engineers at Arup—who also worked on both the London and Singapore wheels—designed a single, extra-large hub and spindle system that rotates on two of the largest roller bearings ever manufactured. They also figured out how to attach the structure’s 112 steel cables to a single tubular rim, rather than relying on a busy trusswork system. “The rim really does disappear because the cabins are so large,” said Krolicki. “Standing in one location you can see in all directions.”

Courtesy Arup
 

The form of the wheel was further influenced by conditions on the ground. “During construction it looked like we had this giant dirt lot,” said Krolicki. “But when you look at the property lines it’s fairly constrained.” With the monorail on one side and a storm culvert running through the site, there were really only three places to land the legs. The two pairs of support legs cant inward to land within the property line, while the structure’s single brace leg reaches across the culvert and an existing road. At night, when the wheel is illuminated by 2,000 LEDs, the structure becomes nearly invisible, the cabins rotating around a vast circle that seems to float in the desert sky.

Denise Truscello
 

The High Roller, its designers emphasize, is not just an object. It is an experience. Designed to attract younger visitors, the wheel’s nightclub atmosphere begins in the welcome lobby, where riders are treated to a multimedia display before moving to a second floor lounge. On the third floor, just before the loading platform, is a 280-degree theater showing Vegas-themed music videos. Yet even the midst of all this excitement, the awesomeness of the High Roller itself is hard to deny, said The Hettema Group’s Phil Hettema. “Every time I go out there and see these 8-meter spheres kind of dropping out of the sky, it’s a really impressive and unforgettable moment.”

Anna Bergren Miller