Citymaking Interview with Julia Barfield


The 2019 Thornton Lecture was given by Julia Barfield, director, Marks Barfield Architects, at Citymaking Sessions 27 June


With the London Eye, Julia change the game. Completely. It took her profession into a whole new space - architecture as icon, as leisure, as pure fairground fun - but urban too, architectural too, and built with the precision of a hi-tech master. And it changed London's game. It brought the Olympics here. Made the Shard real. Anish Kapoor's Stratford scribble. The Eye gave permission for the skyline to change. And so it did. 


We asked Julia Barfield a few questions to understand her ideas of what citymaking really means today: 

Which city means the most to you and why? 

I was bought up in and have lived in London all my life so it is unquestionably the city that means the most to me. I have seen many changes in that time, some for the worse but many for the better. The River has come alive and is central to city life, particularly on the South Bank; we enjoy a drinking and eating outside;  food quality has improved immensely; integrated public transport has transformed  how we move around the city and I learnt today that London is, in fact, technically a forest, with 8.4 mill trees – almost one per person – who knew.


What’s the most inspiring urban experience you’ve had, where was it and why was it so memorable? 

The transformation of Waterloo bridge into the ‘Garden Bridge’ for a few days in April was inspirational. The festival atmosphere, the skateboarding, the music, the flags, free distribution of food, the trees, the camaraderie and sense of common purpose, the conversations with strangers – including police officers. All this followed by the deadly serious arrests – individuals making the momentous personal decision to cross the line – many for the first time – old and young.  To see a major artery of the city taken over in this way is a powerful metaphor of the fundamental changes needed to address the climate emergency and so much cheaper than Boris’s bridge.


Tell us about a time you were in a town or city and thought ‘there’s something wrong here’.

A trip to visit family in California last summer threw up surprisingly extreme contrasts in both LA and San Francisco – both amazing cities but both leaving us with the strong sense of ‘something wrong here’.  The scale of homelessness exceeded anything I have seen before in a developed country. To see such pain, desperation  and deprivation next to such affluence was shocking. We listened to people going through our bins at night and witnessed abundance during the day. Apparently, there are 36,000 homeless in LA caused by rocketing rents, federal disengagement from affordable housing and a lack of mental health facilities.   Ouch!


What does citymaking mean to you?

Creating a place that enhances the lives of all of it’s citizens regardless of age, gender, class, creed, race and sexuality. A place that encourages it’s citizens to connect positively across cultural and social divides.  A place that draws on a minimum of the earth’s limited resources and a place that uses cathedral and regenerative thinking to develop a long-term, multi-generational vision that is committed to contributing positively to mitigating climate and environmental breakdown.


london eye 

 © Marks Barfield Architects