The shortlist for The Structural Awards 2015 was published in August, celebrating outstanding structural engineering projects from around the world. The winners will be announced during an Awards ceremony in London on 13 November.

John Lyle of Arup has been a structural engineer for 35 years. Here he talks about the "Vegas High Roller”, the tallest observation wheel in the world. Located in Las Vegas, USA, it is an entry to both our “Arts or Entertainment Structures” and “Sports and Leisure Structures” award categories.

I was inspired to become an engineer by the desire to make a difference - and by the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. At Arup I have been lucky to work on many unusual structures (including the London Eye and The Singapore Sports Hub’s retractable roof), but The Vegas High Roller is special to me, as the design is pretty much engineering-led and dominated by its structural function. 

Structural engineering is often hidden behind architecture, and can sometimes be compromised as a result of architectural decisions. But with the High Roller we see some of the most advanced structural engineering in the world on display in its most functional form - and the result is uplifting and delightful.

There are very few structures in the built environment like it. It is quite different to any other observation wheel, standing 168 meters tall, with large, spherical forty-person cabins attached to a single tubular rim. It’s capable of carrying over 1000 people at a time - the equivalent to nearly two full Airbus A380 aircraft!

There were a number of key challenges when it came to the design. As the wheel rotates, loads vary between tension and compression on most of the main structural components. That means we have to minimise the risks of metal fatigue - the type of failure you get if you bend a paper clip back and forth many times. Careful analysis and detailing was required for highly stressed areas, such as welds, bolted connections and the tensioned spoke cables, to prevent this type of failure ever occurring. 
We also have to ensure the relatively light wheel structure did not move about too much on windy days. The challenge was to make the structure just stiff enough so it did not feel too “lively” and start to worry passengers.

I am very proud of the High Roller project. When it was being built I noticed some people stopping on a street near the site and saying: “wow!” before taking pictures of it –I knew then we had done something special. Judging by the reactions on Twitter, the wheel seems to be widely praised by local people as a great new landmark.  I think it is, like the London Eye, starting to help regenerate a previously poorly used part of town and I am very pleased to see it shortlisted for The Structural Awards 2015, competing against the best engineering in the world.

Visit The Structural Awards 2015 website to find out about our other shortlisted entries, and to buy your tickets.



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