Thornton Tomasetti provided structural analysis and foundation and reinforcement design to support the new 196-foot-tall Ferris wheel at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Photo by Nick Partridge.
Chicagoans rang in Memorial Day weekend with the opening of a new Ferris wheel on Friday at Navy Pier, the city’s lakefront attraction. Thornton Tomasetti provided analysis of the pier’s existing precast concrete structure, and foundation and structural reinforcement to support the new loads. Named in celebration of Navy Pier’s 100-year anniversary, Centennial Wheel replaced a smaller model built in 1995 and now accommodates 420 riders, 180 more than before. As part of our consulting services, we studied several types of Ferris wheels and recommended the Dutch Wheels Model DW60, as it would require the least amount of foundation and structural reinforcement. The 196-foot-tall wheel features 41 eight-person enclosed gondolas, making the attraction a year-round destination, and one four-seat VIP gondola with a glass bottom. It was modeled after the original Ferris wheel, which debuted at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The project presented two primary challenges: to support larger loads than the previous wheel and a different load path due to a new leg geometry. To support the new wheel, two 18-inch thick walls were added in the parking garage directly below the four main legs. A 12-inch-thick concrete mat was installed on top of the garage deck, which resists outward forces created by the splay of the wheel’s legs. The lateral stability legs on the wheel’s east side connect to columns that run through the garage and down to micropiles that extend another 120 feet to bedrock, which were anchored into the bedrock due to net tensile forces on those legs.
Watch a time-lapse video of the wheel’s construction:
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) gave a speech at the opening ceremony for the Centennial Wheel. “Today we are honoring Chicago’s history as the birthplace of the Ferris wheel, while we celebrate the centennial of Navy Pier,” he said. Photo by Bill Bast.
Thornton Tomasetti also provided structural engineering for other recent improvements to Navy Pier. These include a redeveloped South Arcade with Gensler, a new theater space for Chicago Shakespeare Theater designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture currently under construction, and the transformation of Polk Bros Park with James Corner Field Operations, which starts construction this summer.
Thornton Tomasetti’s project team were among the first to get a ride on the new wheel on opening day. Pictured are Senior Designer Armen Avedoumian (left), Project Engineer Albert Mena, Senior Project Engineer Eric Wheeler, Senior Associate Ken Maschke with daughter Sophie, Engineer Nick Partridge and Associate Joe Simeo.
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