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Old April 6th, 2006, 05:28 PM   #1
hkskyline
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London Eye

Towering ambition
How do you top a national icon like the London Eye? Steve Rose finds out about David Marks and Julia Barfield's big, bold ideas
27 March 2006
The Guardian



David Marks and Julia Barfield don't want to talk about the London Eye. They've even got a PR guy in the room whose principal task seems to be to prevent them talking about the Eye whenever they stray onto it. The husband-and-wife team's hi-tech observation wheel on the South Bank may have transformed London, attracted millions of visitors, and made their names as near to household as most architects could ever hope, but lately it has become a millstone as much as a badge of honour. Not just because its singular success threatens to overshadow everything they subsequently do, but also because of the amount of time and energy the Eye has continued to demand of them.

Marks and Barfield were not just the designers of the Eye; they were its originators, and they went through years of campaigning, consulting and cajoling before they even started thinking about how to build it. Until recently, they were also its part-owners, along with British Airways (BA) and the Tussauds Group. Last month, Marks and Barfield sold their one-third stake to Tussauds for an undisclosed sum. They had little choice, since BA had done the same with its own third a few months earlier, thus destroying any possibility of Marks Barfield playing a significant role in the Eye's future. It has been many years since relations between the architects and BA could be described as anything resembling cordial.

"I think we're relieved the struggle is over," says Marks in their south London office. "But I can't get over the way BA behaved. I've got absolutely nothing good to say about British Airways any longer. I've got it out of the way. As far as I'm concerned, they don't deserve to have their name on the wheel any more, but we don't have anything to say about that. And I think it's a great shame that a flag-flying business thinks it can behave like that."

"But having said that . . ." Barfield prompts him. "Having said that," Marks continues, "we have to put it behind us. You can't always get what you want and it has actually given us the freedom to pursue new opportunities."

The PR guy starts to relax, then tenses up again when I ask whether the Eye has been a drain on their resources. "Absolutely," says Marks. "It's been a drain because we were slightly led up . . . " "It's happened," the PR interrupts, "and now we're looking towards the future."

However, one of the difficulties with the Eye has been where to go next after such a one-off. Other parties approached them to build a similar design but, as the architects explain, you can't just put one up anywhere.

"It was very much designed for London," says Marks, "for the circumstance in which it is: for three or four million visitors a year, for a location that was highly accessible, with fantastic views. And if you want to do a similar kind of project in another location, it may not have the visitor numbers, it may not have the views, it may not have the revenues or the funds available to build or operate it. The London Eye employs about 300 people. It's a very expensive operation, so there are only a handful of places in the world where you could do a similar project."

But Marks Barfield have been working on that. The result, which they unveiled last year, is another refashioned observation structure: the I-360. What the Eye was to ferris wheels, the I-360 is to those "sky towers" you used to find at theme parks. And like the Eye, it has been updated with a 21st-century aesthetic: a clean, minimal structure with state-of-the-art engineering. It has a single large, doughnut-shaped cabin that moves up and down a central spire, taking 100 people at a time.

"Just as the London Eye capsule was based on the proportions of our kitchen, this pod is based on the proportions of our office," says Marks - which would make it about 15m in diameter. The I-360 will rise higher than the London Eye, with a 20-minute up-and-down journey, but it will be cheaper, since it requires less land and fewer staff, and is designed for a smaller flow of visitors - about a million a year. Details of when, where or even if the first one will be built are under wraps for the time being.

There are other pioneering projects in the pipeline, too. One is a sort of free-standing urban wind turbine. Rather than the traditional giant windmill, Marks Barfield's design (in partnership with low-carbon engineers XC02) proposes five smaller, vertical-axis turbines - ie, ones that spin like a record, rather than a propeller - held up on a simple frame like an inverted coat-hanger. You could put them up anywhere - on lampposts, for example. "It's just about thinking how you can design them to be aesthetically acceptable," says Barfield.

"And it's got to be more efficient to generate power where you're going to use it," Marks continues. "Why can't we put them in streets, along the river, in public places? So you can plug them directly into the service media in the street. This is 40m high, and will provide enough energy for 25 houses."

There's also the River of Light, which is less an architectural project than an initiative to smarten up the lighting along the Thames - the bridges, the embankments, the major buildings. Having taken some 500 "flights" on the Eye over the years, the pair have had time to think about these things. They've even put together a short film showing how it could look, with a variety of dynamic lightscapes animating the city. This is not something Marks and Barfield are proposing to do themselves, nor do they expect to make money out of it. "We're building a snowball," says Marks. "Some things are just worth doing."

There are not many architects who traffic in this kind of speculative free-thinking, but it would be unfair to characterise Marks Barfield as architectural renegades in search of headline-grabbing schemes. Compared to their student contemporaries at the Architectural Association, such as Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid, they were the unfashionable engineers, they say. Their 20-person practice is a calm, sober place rather than a hive of undisciplined experimentation.

And yet Marks and Barfield have an almost old-fashioned faith in the power of design and technology to make the world a better place. There's something about their optimism that recalls the space-age utopians of the 1950s, such as Buckminster Fuller or Cedric Price. If it hadn't paid such dividends, their approach might appear rather quaint.

"Why wait for someone to ask you to do something when it's fairly obvious something could be done? Or should be done," says Marks. "There is a tradition of architects generating things, but in the past it tended to be ideas and theories, and they've tended to have to wait for someone to commission them to fulfil those ideas. We've sort of jumped a step and tried to get on with it. We're probably light on the theory and a bit heavier on the practice."

It hasn't always worked. When Marks and Barfield set up on their own, having left the offices of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster respectively, their first project was the World Sea Centre: a huge marine complex, including a giant public aquarium, in a disused dockyard in Toulon, France. Marks's father was the project's prime mover, but the support and investment he gathered were undone by the local organised crime syndicate, who effectively demanded a piece of the action. "One of the local politicians got a delivery of little coffins with the names of their children on them," says Barfield. "In the end, the state had to come in and clean it all up."

More recently there was the Skyhouse, an ambitious proposal for high-rise urban living with well-considered, three-part towers up to 50 storeys high. The buildings had roof gardens and internal wind turbines, but the architects didn't have anywhere to build them, and they still don't. "There were certain things that we didn't appreciate at the time," Marks admits. "Such as the capacity of the market to absorb 900 houses at one time. We're much wiser about that now. It's probably time to dust it off and bring it up to date."

Both architects are keen to stress that the big, bold ideas aren't all they do. They have a steady stream of more modest, if not entirely conventional, projects that form their bread and butter, and they say there's no project they wouldn't consider. Due to open soon is their White Horse Bridge, a footbridge linking the new Wembley Stadium to the town centre. Meanwhile, the Lightbox, their zero-carbon community centre in Woking, with gold and silver cladding, should turn heads when it opens next year. Other current projects include a transport interchange at Ryde, on the Isle of Wight; a business innovation centre in Lincoln; and a striking, spiralling radar tower along the Thames. They also hint at a "big announcement" they'll be making at the end of this month.

Rather than seeking to capitalise on the brand identity of the Eye, Marks and Barfield prefer to turn it the other way around. "I think the Eye is a reflection of our own brand," says Marks. "What we've tried to do with the wheel is establish a personality on it, and we've done that quite successfully I think." "We're just continuing to do what we do, really," says Barfield, "and in design terms we try to make or do things that haven't been done before."

"We pretty much do everything with a sense of openness and honesty and integrity," Marks concludes, "and try to make it work for everyone. If you do that, the chances of success are pretty high, because everyone wins"
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Old April 7th, 2006, 10:29 AM   #2
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quite intersting and scary that wheel...
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Old November 8th, 2010, 06:29 PM   #3
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LONDON EYE SPINS ITS WAY TO RECORD £29M PROFITS
1 October 2010
The Evening Standard


Source : http://www.pbase.com/srobertson/image/73640745

THE London Eye is officially the capital’s biggest ever tourism “money-spinner”, with record profits of more than £29 million last year.

More than 3.5 million people paid between £10 and £29.70 for a “flight” in one of the wheel’s capsules, boosting profits by almost a fifth, according to the latest financial figures.

A spokeswoman for the owner, theme park operator Merlin Entertainment, said: “The Eye is already the UK’s No 1 attraction and has become an icon both for London and the country.”

The Eye made £29.1 million, up 18 per cent on the previous year, on turnover of £56.4 million. It is now more popular than the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids — the latest sign that London’s tourism boom is still gathering pace in the face of global economic pessimism.

Almost all the capital’s major attractions said they had seen huge increases in tourist visits over the summer and ticket sales in the West End are up about eight per cent so far this year.

The continuing weakness of sterling and a second consecutive “staycation summer” after the volcanic ash cloud chaos helped to boost foreign and domestic visitor numbers. Visits rose by 7.5 per cent in August.

A spokeswoman for the Tower of London said: “Last year was our best in at least the last 23, which is as far back as our computer records go.”

The National Portrait Gallery had almost 200,000 visitors in August, up 11 per cent on a record last year.

A spokesman for the New West End Company, which represents stores in Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, said till takings had been boosted by heavy Middle East spending in the run-up to Ramadan in August and by the Chinese “Golden Week” national holiday last month.
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Old November 9th, 2010, 05:22 AM   #4
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To me it is a Ferris Wheel, and looks out of place in London. Ferris Wheels I associate when the circus comes to town.
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Old November 9th, 2010, 05:51 PM   #5
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Old November 10th, 2010, 05:34 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Taller, Better View Post
To me it is a Ferris Wheel, and looks out of place in London. Ferris Wheels I associate when the circus comes to town.
Yes - appears there is a sudden rush to building these ferris wheels these days. London Eye's location is fairly decent, but I thought it was incredibly overpriced. I thought the view from the Monument further downstream along the Thames to be a little better, at a fraction of the price.

The view from St. Paul's dome was far more astonishing.
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Old November 10th, 2010, 09:05 AM   #7
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For me, the aesthetic is, well... no other word for it but "tacky". I can't imagine anyone wanting a Ferris Wheel permanently in such a prime location.
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Old November 10th, 2010, 09:57 AM   #8
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The London Eye is one of the better wheels too.
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