Last Thursday was a good day for David Marks and Julia Barfield. Construction started on their 135m-high millennium wheel (now christened the British Airways London Eye). With Darcey Bussell and Joanna Lumley officiating, it was not surprising that the event made the pages of the Evening Standard. But so, serendipitously, did another proposal by the practice on the same day - a scheme for a Thames pier outside the existing Tate Gallery at Millbank.
Both schemes share a vital characteristic - they came into being through the determination and drive of the architects. 'You can't always hang around for the right project to come along,' said Barfield of their involvement in the wheel, a project which took over their entire professional lives.
It started from an es ideas competition for ways to celebrate the millennium. Marks and Barfield realised that nobody was likely to take their idea forward but that it was, mostly, popular. They set up the Millennium Wheel Company with Marks' father, who has since died, and fought through the planning and funding processes. Once ba came on board, and later Madame Tussauds as the operator, the burden was spread, but Marks raised £30 million from the private sector. 'I did enjoy it,' said Marks, 'but I am glad to be spending time on design now, becoming an architect again.'
The pair have an excellent pedigree. Before setting up together in 1989, he worked for Richard Rogers for seven years and was involved with the Lloyd's building. Barfield was at Foster's for five years, and was project architect on the Royal Academy Sackler Galleries.
They won several awards for the Liverpool Watersports Centre and have another watersports building going ahead in Hackney, North London. Other work includes a recent fit-out of the Royal Saudi Airforce museum in Riyadh, which may have a second phase, and the proposal ('it's so obvious' said Barfield) for the Tate pier. They have also, like too many architects, done well in competitions which have come to nothing.
There are currently 10 in the practice, which peaked at 16 and has been as small as two. The duo have no ambition to reach the size of a Rogers or Foster. 'If you get that big the principals lose control,' said Marks, citing the wheel where they had to battle to keep their ideas intact through the d&b process. But they have no regrets. 'I would do it again,' said Marks. Indeed they already are, with the Tate pier and another concept they are discussing with an as-yet unnamed client. With such enterprise, growth may be unavoidable.