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Avery and Marks: design champions who have left us too early

Paul Finch
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Bryan Avery and David Marks should be cherished as much for their independence of thought as for their design brilliance, writes Paul Finch

The recent deaths of Bryan Avery and David Marks have left British architectural culture poorer. Both will be missed, not least because each had much to offer, still buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm for the activity which informed his life.

I was lucky enough to have known both as friendly acquaintances over many years and, although as far as I know they had no particular connection, I recognised in both that independence of thought and spirit that makes architects such vibrant contributors to the world of the built environment, and of ideas generally. Free-thinkers need to be cherished.

Two vignettes may serve to make the point. I had breakfast with Bryan in the Wolseley Hotel about 18 months ago, after a site visit nearby. The site is a tree-lined avenue not generally noticed, which runs from a gate onto Piccadilly and is on axis with the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. It is a very beautiful space, and Bryan had an idea that this would be a wonderful location to make a memorial marking the reign of Elizabeth II. There was an implicit suggestion that the proposition could be adapted to include a site for a statue when the time comes.

This was a self-generated project because Bryan had noticed the Green Park site and the idea had simply occurred; he produced a design for a reflecting pool running along the length of the ‘avenue’; who knows what will now happen to it. It is a wonderful site, and no doubt the location of his own office not far away in Victoria partly explained his knowledge of, and interest in, the parks of Westminster.

Years earlier he had completed a retrofit of a commercial office building in Victoria which spans Wilton Road and Vauxhall Bridge Road. His two long elevations were utterly different, at a time when this approach to environmental design was, to put it mildly, unusual. Add his Imax project in Waterloo (the first building he completed from basement to roof, at quite an advanced age), plus his triumphant work for RADA, and you get a good picture of a highly individual and talented designer.

Rada richard bryant:arcaid and mark tupper

Rada richard bryant:arcaid and mark tupper

I last saw David Marks this summer in Brighton, where he, Julia Barfield and others in the design/client team were presenting the i360 ‘vertical pier’ to a judging team for the British Construction Industry Awards. David was on top form: informative, inspirational and proselytising for the integration of design in all its aspects, including the construction processes.

He and Julia had been through a baptism of fire on their brilliant London Eye project. This time round they were determined that the designers should reap fully the benefits of another self-generated proposal. Although heavily associated with BA, the reality is that the latter simply has naming rights. The design team are the owners.

What was fascinating was to hear about the financial deal that has allowed Brighton’s newest and highly successful attraction to come into being. The council borrowed money from the Public Sector Loan Board at soft rates, which they traded on to the instigators of the project, making a profit for the public purse over the 25-year period of the loan. The profit is being ploughed into urban regeneration and public space projects in the vicinity of the i360.

©british airways i360 3

©british airways i360 3

Source: BA

The British Airways i360, designed by Marks Barfield

David loved this sort of thinking in the round, where the nature of finance, or construction logistics, become part of the wider consideration of how you design a successful project from the outset. His world view meant acknowledging the importance of different contributors to a project who were not necessarily designers. Bryan Avery was of the same view: he disliked that aspect of the architectural education which premiated design brilliance and pushed everyone into completing their education as though they had it, when what was really needed was a system which allowed as many as possibly to be brilliant at what they were really good at.

I would have enjoyed a round-table conversation with both together. Sadly, I can now only imagine it.

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