Dome contents need more real content

If officialdom responds at all to the rather quaintly described “polemical pamphlet” In Defence of the Dome, it will doubtless dismiss its authors – James Woudhuysen, Penny Lewis and Vicky Richardson – as “whingers” (see Review, page 36). For, though the trio wholeheartedly support the concept of the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, they rail against its content.

The Dome’s content has been the focus for dissent all along, from the initial ideas to how the designs have been commissioned and, subsequently, managed. The same could be said about many a Government venture.

Woudhuysen and friends are highly critical of people who’ve written off the Dome before it’s completed, ironically calling them “whingers”. They put forward ten positive ideas of what could be achieved within the elegant structure created by architect Richard Rogers Partnership and engineer Buro Happold. Rather late in the day, perhaps, but sound propositions nonetheless.

We at Design Week long since put our cap in the ring, asking where were all the everyday artefacts, from ashtrays to chairs, commissioned for the Dome with a view to mass production later. Ernest Race’s Antelope chairs for the 1951 Festival of Britain spring to mind as a precedent that has now become a collectable. Maybe they will exist, but we’ve had no feedback.

For this, and our continued airing of the Dome debate, Woudhuysen’s team call us “courageous”. We appreciate the sentiment, but would rather see courage manifested more within the design community. Why has no one from design spoken out before with constructive comment on the content? We may know little of what’s planned, but we can venture ideas on what the central focus should be. Is no one else in favour of a “grown up” cultural event than the “theme park” we can expect from current information?

The Dome is but a high profile example of the Government’s brush with design. Commitment clearly exists at the highest levels, though it still depends largely on the “patronage” of individual Cabinet ministers. The Design Council and other Government agencies are stirring to keep its paymasters abreast of design’s benefits. But what is the industry saying?

The hand was held out by Tony Blair to designers early in his administration. Since then the creative community has done its bit to bolster the slick image of a swinging Britain so beloved by the politicians. But it hasn’t thrown up a full-blooded champion to argue a stronger case. Is it just “whinging” to point this out?

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