The newspaper contest never got off the ground, but against all odds the wheel has. With the help of British Airways, Marks and Barfield's $32 million project is nearing completion in the heart of London across the river from the Houses of Parliament. If all goes well, on New Year's Eve journalists and VIPs will ride the wheel's first 26-minute turn, listening to recorded commentary as they soak in the spectacular views. (Next year the public can get on, at $12 for adults, $8 for kids.) The couple are pleased so many Londoners seem enthusiastic about the project. "If it brings prosperity to the area and gives visitors a great experience, then we will be delighted," Marks says. "We may even make some money."
As far as architect David Marks was concerned, Big Ben, at a measly 314 feet, wasn't big enough for London. Six years ago, in response to a newspaper contest for a suitable monument to the millennium, Marks had the idea of building a Ferris wheel. And not just your run-of-the-mill, glorified Erector-set wheel, but a gigantic structure 443 feet high—the tallest wheel in the world—capable of carrying 800 people in 32 air-conditioned capsules. "New York has the World Trade Center and Paris has the Eiffel Tower," says Marks, 46, who was assisted by his architect wife, Julia Barfield, also 46, "but Londoners have to hire a plane to see the best of the city."