Like Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the London Eye was only meant to be a temporary structure. However, 17 years after its opening in March 2000, after it had been dramatically hoisted up into place after hanging over the River Thames and unveiled as the “Millennium Wheel,” the structure is now an indelible icon on London‘s skyline. Designed by Marks Barfield Architects, the Eye has now outlived one of its creators, David Marks, who passed away on October 6 at the age of 64. According to his firm, Marks had been ill for sometime.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Marks grew up in Geneva, Switzerland before moving to London to study at the Architectural Association School (AA) in 1972. There, he met another student, Julia Barfield, who he married in 1981. The couple went on to form Marks Barfield Architects in 1989 and together they have contributed some of the U.K.’s best elevated views over the past two decades.
The 1990s was a somewhat bombastic time for London architecture. The impending millennium gave rise to Britain’s architectural heavyweights—though not quite household names at the time—to design monuments for the occasion: Richard Rogers, who once employed a young David Marks, provided the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Arena) and Norman Foster the Millennium Bridge. Both structures were swiftly derided after their opening. The Dome was costing the government $42 million a year and couldn’t be sold, while Foster’s bridge, nicknamed the “Wobbly Bridge” was in fact so wobbly in the wind that it had to be temporarily closed down and fixed.
The London Eye at night in 2013, captured on a slow shutter. (Courtesy Martin Falbisoner via Wikipedia Commons)
One other millennium-based addition to London’s skyline, however, endured no such tumult. As you might have guessed, this is the London Eye. David Marks and Julia Barfield’s design dates back to 1993 when it was submitted to a competition organized by the Sunday Times newspaper and The Architecture Foundation which called for a millennium landmark. The Millennium Wheel, along with every other submission, was rejected. Undeterred, Marks and Barfield remained intent on spinning the wheel into motion.
Their efforts paid off when the Evening Standard told the story of the wheel’s plight and just over a year later, British Airways contacted the firm about getting the project underway. Now, the London Eye is the U.K.’s most popular paid-for attraction with approximately 15,000 daily visitors embarking on the 1,392-foot-journey around the Eye’s circumference at a steady 0.6 miles-per-hour. At the turn of the millennium, David Marks was awarded an MBE and a Special Commendation for Outstanding Achievement in Design for Business and Society by the Prince Philip Designers Prize.
Marks Barfield’s partnership with British Airways has born other fruit too. The firm’s most recently completed work, the i360 in Brighton, is a rotating observation tower that rises to 531 feet along the South Coast. Opened in 2016, the structure lifts and revolves a pod, reminiscent of the London Eye’s 32 pods, up and around a pole.
The British Airways i360. (Jason Sayer)
Another elevated viewing platform the firm provided is the Kew Gardens Treetop walkway. Situated 60 feet above ground, the 650-foot-long path made from weathered steel looks over some of the world’s best horticulture. The project was completed in 2008.
Currently, Marks Barfield Architects is working on a new Mosque in Cambridge with Keith Critchlow, a professor of architecture at Cambridge University who taught David Marks at the AA.
Cambridge Mosque (Courtesy Marks Barfield Architects)
Due for completion in 2018, the project will accommodate up to 1,000 men and women.