The Las Vegas skyline just got a lot taller. The 550-foot High Roller, set to open this spring, is the world’s highest observation wheel, towering above both the London Eye (443 feet) and the Singapore Flyer (541 feet). A project of Caesars Entertainment, the High Roller is the anchor of the new shopping and nightlife complex known as The LINQ. “As we settled on the idea of a giant wheel, we just began brainstorming: well, what does that really mean?” said Phil Hettema, whose Hettema Group designed the structure. “We looked at the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer and tried to understand those. We really talked about what we liked about those, and also about what we wanted to do differently.”
The designers turned their attention to three aspects of the High Roller experience. First, “we really wanted a more all-encompassing experience,” said Hettema, “rather than just loading you onto a vehicle that has no narration.” Visitors to the High Roller begin their trip in the welcome lobby, where media screens and art punctuate the security checks. They then travel to the High Roller lounge on the second floor, where they can buy a drink to enjoy there or on the 30-minute ride. Finally, they climb to the third floor’s 280-degree theater, where they watch Vegas-themed music videos before stepping out onto the loading platform.
Second, the Hettema Group wanted to appeal to a younger crowd—not the Baby Boomers targeted by many of Las Vegas’s attractions. “We wanted to help Caesars be on the cutting edge of that, appeal to a more Millennial generation [with] sort of a different tone and mindset,” explained Hettema. Hence the music videos and the mid-queue lounge.
Finally, “we really wanted to have a strong design point of view,” said Hettema. The company worked with Arup to design an observation wheel based on spherical rather than oval cabins. Suspended by a single large bearing ring, each 44,000-pound cabin offers a 360-degree view of the city below. “Throughout the process our goal was how can we minimize the structure, slim things down so it became as pure of a circle as possible?” said Hettema Group’s John Kasperowicz. Hettema compares the result to pearls strung around a ring. The wheel’s off-white color serves as a canvas for 2,000 LED lights.
That the High Roller went up at all is a bit of a surprise, considering the site. The designers had to work around a storm culvert and an existing monorail line and accommodate FAA regulations. Contrary to intuition, the wheel’s support legs cant in rather than out, to save space on the ground. “As in any design, with each one of those constraints, I hope we’ve been successful at turning them into an aesthetic plus,” said Hettema.
For the High Roller’s designers, the experience remains as important as the structure. “For us, it’s not just placing an object in landscape. It does involve thinking about the entire experience,” said Kasperowicz. “We think of ourselves as designers who are storytellers,” agreed Hettema. “Every project we do has a story of some sort.”