Why did Dubai’s famous observation wheel stop turning?

It’s been out of operation for over a year now – just standing frozen on the artificial Bluewaters island.

Why did Dubai’s famous observation wheel stop turning?
Source: Wikimedia Commons/Richard N Horne

The city of Dubai in the UAE has built itself a reputation for having some of the shiniest, biggest, most impressive structures in the world. It’s truly a new-age city designed to push the bounds of what’s possible in engineering and architecture. It’s home to the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa), the largest inflatable aqua park and the longest urban zipline, the XLine.

And in 2021, the city opened the world’s largest observation wheel, the Ain Dubai (Dubai Eye). When it was built, the Ain was already 82 meters higher than the world’s tallest operating Ferris wheel, the High Roller in Las Vegas. It’s almost twice the size of the London Eye (135 meters tall), reaching about 250 meters in height. It has the capacity to fit 1,750 riders at a time.

“What we’ve designed and developed here is hugely complex – it has never been done before, to this scale, so a lot of what we did was breaking new ground,” explained a spokesperson for the Ain Dubai.

And, at first, the wheel seemed to be everything that riders dreamed of. But, just a few months after starting operations, the Ain closed. And it’s been out of operation for over a year now – just standing frozen on the artificial Bluewaters island. And it’s not clear exactly why.

On the Ain website, it says: "Ain Dubai remains closed until further notice. We continue to rigorously work on completing the enhancement works that have been taking place over the past months." City officials seem tightlipped on the subject, too.

“The problem with building the world’s largest anything is that when you extend beyond a certain scale, you enter the unknown, where issues that are normally minor can become suddenly major,” said Aled Davies, the director of postgraduate teaching in engineering at Cardiff University. “But there’s no information on this, so who knows — it could be material issues, it could be surprise additional stresses on the bearing from wind or structural movement beyond what it was intended to manage.”

And, of course, locals have their own theories. Some say that the wheel had technical issues or that it was just too heavy for the human-made island and started to sink. Others say that the wheel would actually noticeably vibrate when it was in operation or that it caused the ground to shake – possibly to the point where buildings’ windows shattered. Or maybe the Ain’s foundation was weakened.

For now, the mystery continues …