History has quickly dismissed the mild hysteria that was in the air on New Year’s Eve in 1999.
The date change to the year 2000 did not computer systems into meltdown. The Millennium Dome is no longer a white elephant, but one of the world’s most popular music venues. And the temporary ferris wheel cantilevered over the River Thames, has embedded itself into London’s skyline and become one of its favourite attractions – clocking up some 60M visitors.
With hindsight, it is easy to forget the enormous risk on many levels that David Marks and his architect wife Julia Barfield took in forging ahead with their plans for what is now known as the London Eye in the late 1990s. But as the architecture and engineering worlds mourn Marks, who died in October, those engineers who worked on projects such as the Eye, Kew Garden’s Treetop Walkway and the i360 viewing attraction in Brighton, remember Marks’ vision, entrepreneurial spirit, tenacity and bravery.
Jacobs operations director John Roberts, who worked with Marks on projects including the London Eye and i360, recalls the first time they met during the early development days of the London Eye.
“This was quite a small practice and what was unbelievable to me was that there was no client,” says Roberts. “There wasn’t a big theme park or leisure company doing this wheel. He had dreamed up this wheel himself in response to a competition run by the Sunday Times to find a suitable icon to celebrate the millennium.
For an architect he had an amazingly good understanding of structural engineering
John Roberts, Jacobs
“At first, he didn’t know who owned the site, or who would fund it. He didn’t even win the competition, but he was still resolved to do it and took extraordinary risks to, initially, fund it himself.”
It was only 15 minutes into their first meeting when Marks took Roberts on board. Their working relationship lasted 20 years, their most recent collaboration being the i360. And Roberts remembers his constant thirst for knowledge about how structures worked.
“For an architect he had an amazingly good understanding of structural engineering,” said Roberts. “He wouldn’t dream up these crazy things that weren’t capable of working, he got it reasonably right.”
Swedish born and Switzerland educated, Marks moved to London in 1972 to attend the Architectural Association School, where he met his wife and business partner Julia Barfield. Marks Barfield architects was formed in 1989.
EngineersHRW consultant Jane Wernick has worked with Marks Barfield on several projects throughout her career, including the London Eye, when she was at consultant Arup.
“David was a very gentle person, not a big ego, but he would always try things. He was fearless and he would just go for it and that was just wonderful. He was very respectful to work with; he would listen to what you said and ask a searching question to push you further,” she says.
“I don’t think it was so much he wanted to influence the skyline, he was thinking about how people live and how to improve housing, and social issues and an architect’s role in that. He combined that with this really ingrained thirst for knowledge for how things work, which permeated every conversation we had,” says Wernick.