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London Eye co-designer David Marks dies aged 64


Marks Barfield Architects co-founder David Marks, best known for designing the London Eye with his wife and practice partner Julia Barfield, has died, aged 64

The architect, who worked for Richard Rogers before founding the London-based firm with Barfield in 1989, died on Friday morning (6 October) following a long illness. He had been suffering from cancer.

Born on 15 December 1952 in Stockholm, Marks grew up in Geneva and in 1972 moved to London to attend the Architectural Association School. It was here he met Barfield, a fellow student and neighbour, and the pair married in 1981. 

Together they created a series of well-known landmarks, including the London Eye, the Treetop Walkway at Kew, the British Airways i360 in Brighton and the University of Cambridge Primary School, the first piece in the North West Cambridge masterplan to complete in 2016 (AJ 05.09.16). 

Marks was famously entrepreneurial and often took responsibility for driving forward many of the practice’s high-profile schemes and, with Barfield’s support, sharing the financial risk of projects.

Speaking to The Sunday Times in July 2016, Marks said: ‘Architects don’t stop, they just go on building things until they run out of breath.’

He added: ‘Julia and I never get sick of each other. We’ve been married for 35 years and I can’t put into words how much I love her.’

Remembering Marks, Richard Rogers said: ’I knew David for many years. He was an integral part of the team, helping us deliver the Lloyds Building.

‘David and Julia both changed London’

’Strong in views and ethics, passionate about architecture, to which his contribution has been enormous. David and Julia both changed London.

‘Only last week I went with the office to Brighton to celebrate their beautiful observation tower.’

He added: ’I’ll miss David - the handsome man with the wonderful smile.’

Hanif Kara of engineers AKT II said: ‘David was a gentle giant and, though we will mostly remember him for putting the UK on the global map with the London Eye and i360 tower. He gifted us with his patience and determination to change the value of our industry.

’We spoke often about his drive to transform practice and education of engineers and I was always inspired and learned a lot  with each conversation. I will miss him very dearly and my deepest sympathy and thoughts are with his family and all those close to him.’

Marks Barfield Architects is set to continue under the leadership of Barfield and directors Ian Rudolph, Gemma Collins, Ian Crockford and Magali Thompson.

According to the firm, the directors had already been working with Marks and Barfield ‘to ensure a smooth succession for the future of the practice’.

Marks leaves three children. Details of a memorial will be announced in due course.

Olympic tweets to light up the London Eye

Olympic tweets to light up the London Eye

Official family and practice statement

David Marks and Julia Barfield

David Marks and Julia Barfield

David Marks and Julia Barfield

With the deepest sorrow, the family of David Marks and his colleagues at Marks Barfield Architects regret to announce that David died on 6 October 2017, following a long illness.

David spent his last days at home with his family, his partner in life and work, Julia Barfield: and their children Benjamin, Maya and Sarah.

David was an architect whose work was founded in innovation, excellence of design and close collaboration with other disciplines, in particular with engineers. He believed that well designed buildings and structures can improve the quality of people’s lives. He leaves a legacy of much loved landmarks, including the London Eye, the Treetop Walkway at Kew and the British Airways i360 in Brighton, which demonstrate his belief in the human spirit and his wish to elevate minds as well to the spirit. He transformed skylines, and his vision will continue to offer inspiration and delight to future generations.

David was born on 15 December 1952 in Stockholm, Sweden and grew up in Geneva in Switzerland. He moved to London in 1972 to attend the Architectural Association School where he met Julia Barfield, a fellow student and close neighbour, soon after. The pair married in 1981.

David studied under Keith Critchlow at the AA School and began his career working in the office of Richard Rogers, but the defining creative relationship of his life was with Julia Barfield, with whom he collaborated throughout his studies and professional career.

The couple spent their year out while at the AA in South America, including seven months together in Lima, Peru, helping to design a community centre and housing systems for an emerging Barriada settlement. On their return to the UK they alternated between collaboration and individual careers until forming their own practice, Marks Barfield Architects, in 1989.

David and Julia are best known as the architects and entrepreneurs that conceived, designed, and developed the London Eye on London’s Southbank. Initiated as an unsuccessful entry to a Sunday Times ideas competition, it was David and Julia’s tenacity that ensured that the project was realised. The pair found the site, obtained planning consent, mortgaged their home to meet the initial costs, and steered the project through to reality. The London Eye opened in 2000. Today, 17 years later, it has attracted over 60 million visitors.

In 2016 David and Julia repeated the success of their London Eye venture with the completion of British Airways i360 in Brighton, the world’s tallest moving observation tower. The project received a RIBA National Award in 2017, one of a host of professional honours conferred on the design.

Throughout his life, David was enchanted by feats of engineering. Inspired by great Victorian engineers, builders and entrepreneurs such as Brunel, Richard Turner and Decimus Burton’s Palm House at Kew and Eugenius Birch, who designed, financed and built Brighton West Pier on what would become the site of BAi360, David sought to expand the role of the architect through greater collaboration with the disciplines of finance and engineering.

David’s belief in the power of architecture to have a transformative effect on civic life and his determination to finish what he started made him fearless in taking responsibility for projects. With Julia’s support he took a share of the financial risk of projects, and dedicated time and effort to driving them forward. David formed close partnerships with expert collaborators, investors and civic leaders throughout his career in order to broaden his agency as an architect and leader.

With Julia’s support he took a share of the financial risk of projects

He and Julia have been committed to maximising the social benefit derived from their work. In addition to the section 106 obligations required by Lambeth Council, David and Julia initiated the decision to grant 1 per cent of London Eye ticket sales to the local community in perpetuity, to pay for improvements to the local area. Jubilee Gardens, a public park on the South Bank in London, is just one of the projects that benefits from these funds.

BAi360 in Brighton makes the same commitment. BA i360 was part-funded through a loan facilitated by the City Council, so that in the first year of operation, £1.8 million of the company’s revenues were used by the Council to finance local regeneration schemes at including the landscaping of spaces either side of the attraction.

170127 i360 brighton501luke hayes

170127 i360 brighton501luke hayes

David was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year honours list in 2000 and was given a Special Commendation for Outstanding Achievement in Design for Business and Society by the Prince Philip Designers Prize in the same year. He was chairman of the Waterloo Project Board between 2002 and 2007: a £19 million regeneration programme that helped to bring about tangible improvements to everyday life for local residents, employees, and community organisations in London SE1. He was presented with a civic award by the mayor of Lambeth in 2011.

Marks Barfield Architects will continue under the leadership of Julia Barfield and the team of Directors: Ian Rudolph, Gemma Collins, Ian Crockford and Magali Thompson. In the past months, the directors have worked with David and Julia to ensure a smooth succession for the future of the practice.

The wider work of Marks Barfield Architects includes a great diversity of projects such as the Kew Gardens Treetop walkway; infrastructure projects and bridges; schools, including the recently completed University of Cambridge Primary School; art galleries and museums; commercial buildings and housing. Among other projects, Marks Barfield Architects is currently working with Tim Winter to construct a new mosque in Cambridge, which is currently on-site and due to complete in late 2018.

David was Chairman of Brighton i360 Limited, which owns and operates the British Airways i360. His role as Chair will pass to Julia Barfield and the attraction will continue to operate under the remaining board of directors and the executive directorship of Steve Bax and his management team.

David’s funeral will take place at a private ceremony, with details of a memorial to be announced in due course.


Jane Wernick, engineersHRW

David combined humility with tremendous strength and tenacity. In the mid 80’s David and Julia invited me to collaborate with them on a competition, the Grand Buildings on Trafalgar Square. In those days of high-tec it was almost unheard of for an architect to talk about beauty, but David wasn’t afraid to do so.  He went on to form the practice with Julia and, still fearless, developed into an amazing entrepreneurial architect, with a clear social mission and belief in communities.

For an engineer he was a dream to work with. On the Wheel, while we were exploring options, he was constantly challenging us to explain how the structure worked and whether it was the most efficient possible. He believed in structural honesty. At the same time it had to be beautiful.

He was so generous in the way he let all his collaborators contribute and this clearly extended those in his and Julia’s practice.  A man of true vision, combined with such great integrity is rare.  We will miss him so much.

Rowan Moore, architecture critic of the Observer

David had determination and self-belief - otherwise the London Eye would never have been built - but he was also calm, reasonable and decent. He was dedicated to doing everything for the best. As a critic, I didn’t always see things the same way as him, but it was always a pleasure to talk through our agreements and differences.



Readers' comments (4)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    What a terrible loss -David, you were a really great guy. Calmest guy I ever knew.

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  • It is terribly sad that David has been taken from us at such a young age when he still had so much more to give the world. I worked with David and Julia on the London Eye and then on Millbank Pier which remains, by a good margin, the most radical and exciting pier on the Thames.

    I remember him as being full of ideas and the excitement of possibilities. He also had a dogged determination to see a vision through - as evidenced by both the London Eye and the i360. And then there was his obsession about details, only the best was good enough for the public!

    David was very much an engineer's architect in that he admired and respected the engineer's skills and sought to make engineering beautiful rather than to hide it. For me it was this approach that made him so much fun to work with. He will be sorely missed.

    Tim Beckett
    Beckett Rankine

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  • I am so sorry to hear the new of Davids passing . A true gentleman , a man of integrity and an inspiration to all who worked with him.

    I had the pleasure of working with David for 7 years at MarksBarfield Architects , he was always calm and measured in his approach and together with Julia created a unique office culture; empowering , supportive , highly creative and a joy to be part of .

    Together we designed and delivered the Kew TreeTop Walkway amongst many other fabulous projects and I am thankful for all the opportunities he provided me during my time at MBA . David had the ability to conceive such brilliant ideas and everyone in the practice always believed in him , his passion for achieving excellence at every stage of a project was unwavering and his tenacity exemplified in the London Eye and I360

    Deepest condolences to Julia and family and all at MBA

    Chris Smiles
    Melbourne , Australia

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  • Too young, too kind, too gentle, too giant.

    Between the glittering successes of his career, David was instrumental in transforming the South Bank, not only with the London Eye, but in his practical hands-on chairing of the prosaic Waterloo Project Board, and his constant engagement of the community and encouragement of community activists like me. He ensured cash was properly ring-fenced from the Eye for a local park, in perpetuity... but the park didn't exist, so he worked with the local community on dreaming what it might look like. At the time, the community was involved in a long and bitter battle with the would-be park's landowners, the Southbank Centre, so David set about - with his extraordinarily charming gentleness - to generate a genuine dialogue, which turned into a fruitful partnership, and the eventual outcome of a park for the local community and all of London, and, indeed the world. Jubilee Gardens is now - blade for blade - the most visited open space in the UK.

    Just one small gift amongst many from a giant of a man. Thank you, David.

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