Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Don't Use the F-word

Singapore FlyerIt's the natural state of humans to compete and whenever a country or city announces a new skyscraper, airport, theme park or other attraction, journalists reach for the record books. Singapore has now finished its latest attraction, the Singapore Flyer, a large wheel with observation pods that turns; yes, it looks like the London Eye and it claims to be the "world's largest observation wheel".

Of course, it has to be the biggest, otherwise what would be the point, and it's a lot bigger, at 165m tall (~42 stories) it's fully 30m taller than the Eye. It doesn't cantilever out over water, rather its hub is held conventionally on both sides like a bicycle wheel, but the rest of the details are similar; air conditioned pods that rotate to offer a smooth, 360deg turn offering views over Singapore.

The flyer is built downtown-ish, across from the planned Marina Bay Sands casino complex, near where the F1 race pits will be. It's not opposite the Parliament buildings or anything like that which is where the London Eye comparison starts to break down a bit.

When building attractions, it's all about location. Malaysia is rightly proud of the Petronas Twin Towers, at the time of construction, technically the world's highest building (452m). Mind you, they have just 88 floors and the Skybridge (170m) between the towers is way, way lower than Toronto's CN Tower Sky Pod (446m). But they are pretty buildings, visible right across KL and that's the point; they are the only high buildings in KL. Contrast with Manhattan and the Empire State, Chrysler, World Trade, etc. The World Trade towers had 110 stories and that's a 2-for-1 deal. Makes the Taipei-101 (509m, 101 floors) look pretty, but lonely. The big daddy is the Burj Dubai, which when finished will take all records; currently (April 2008) it has 162 floors and is over 600m high, and might be over 900m when done (they haven't decided yet). Very impressive, but even lonelier.

What sometimes gets lost in the hubris of world records is relative scale. If the London Eye was bigger, you would have to put it somewhere else to avoid a visual clash. A spike, nearly a kilometer high, rising from the vast Dubai desert can never look too big. The Singapore Flyer is tucked out of the way and doesn't clash with a relatively low-rise downtown Singapore.

I've been on the London Eye and it's a nice view. The river location, opposite the Palace of Westminster is immediately familiar and you can easily see as far as the Dome and beyond. No, I haven't been on the Flyer yet. Standard fare is $29.50 (£11) which isn't bad (the London Eye is £13.95) so I'll check it out at some point, but it's a toss up between daytime for visibility and nighttime for effect.

The Great Wheel Corporation spent $340 million (£128m) building the Flyer (you're not allowed to called it a Ferris Wheel, the F-word is banned). Mind you, they re-couped some of that quickly as the first "flight" (another London Eye reference) was charged to corporate clients at S$8,888 (£3,340), for luck. Less lucky for Singapore is that the Great Wheel Corp is already planning bigger wheels in Beijing and Berlin over the next 2 years. Which brings us to the moral of the story; people only remember the first and the best.