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Chicago To Replace Famed Ferris Wheel With Taller One


If you're in Chicago and you want a bird's-eye view of the city, you could ascend any number of impressively tall buildings. But if you're looking for a different kind of experience, listen up. One of the best perches in the city is atop the Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier.

CALEB TURNER: I liked being able to see the fog and the clouds rise from the city.

ANSLEY DECKARD: Saw the skyscrapers and the water.

ROBIN KROM: It's a real Americana experience.

LUCY SATTI: I like the look on my grandma's face when she is scared of it.


MARTIN: That was Lucy Satti, Robin Krom, Ansley Deckard and Caleb Turner, all riders of Navy Pier's Ferris wheel in Chicago. The city has just announced plans to replace this wheel with one that's 50 feet taller. In total, it will be 196 feet tall.

The new wheel is not exactly a daring endeavor. It's 68 feet shorter than George Ferris's original wheel at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Nevertheless, this is a great excuse to talk about Ferris wheels, so we have called up Alexander Eisenschmidt. He's the assistant professor of architecture at University of Illinois in Chicago, and he's done a lot of research on Ferris wheels. He's joins me now.

Thanks so much for being with us.

ALEXANDER EISENSCHMIDT: Hi, it's great to be here.

MARTIN: Las Vegas currently holds the record for the world's largest Ferris wheel. New York City is planning to build its own Ferris wheel that could break that record - Dubai, too. Why didn't Chicago venture into that race and try to build the world's largest Ferris wheel?

EISENSCHMIDT: I guess they could, and it wouldn't be actually so difficult. I mean, with our knowledge today, in terms of engineering, building taller is not necessarily a testimony to the architectural or structural quality of a structure. Just like a skyscraper, the tallest is not necessarily the best. But I think what it does tell us is that it's kind of an indication of George Ferris's original invention, of the power and the seductiveness of a Ferris wheel, that they sort of are repeatable attractions where the seductiveness of them is hard to escape from.

MARTIN: Is there something left in Ferris wheel design that hasn't yet been explored? I mean, when you sit and imagine your ideal Ferris wheel, what does it look like and what are the more audacious aspects of that?

EISENSCHMIDT: Well, I think it's the moving parts. News headlines about the original Ferris wheel were talking about putting the Eiffel Tower on the pivot and setting it in motion. This was one of the headlines back in the day, which sort of gives you an impression of really this not as a tower, not as a building, not simply as an infrastructure, but as a thing that moves. And I think that's probably the most captivating aspect of it. It's sort of this moving piece that is really quite large in the city, but then also, as one participates in that ride, the perception of the city is constantly changing as one looks through the structural parts of that creature we call Ferris wheel today.

MARTIN: Alexander Eisenschmidt, assistant professor of architecture at University of Illinois in Chicago. Thank you so much for talking with us.

EISENSCHMIDT: Thank you, Rachel, it was great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.