If there is an element of tragedy about Stephen Bayley’s departure from the Millennium Dome project at Greenwich, it is the New Millennium Experience
Company’s statement that it is not planning to replace him as creative director.
Had the parting not been as acrimonious as it now seems, confirming the view long-held in design that the relationship between Bayley and his employer was on the rocks, reports late last week that he might still have a role in the project might have had some credence. But as the mud-slinging continues it’s obvious that the power struggles between Bayley, the NMEC and Peter Mandelson could never be resolved. It’s no surprise there was failure to agree even on the spirit of the Dome, and inevitable that the NMEC has ruled out any future role for Bayley.
But the falling out leaves one of the country’s most prestigious – and expensive – design projects without a creative visionary at its helm. If Mandelson is looking to step into the breach we have a major problem. Political objectives and a truly memorable “experience” that inspires people at home and abroad rarely go hand in hand.
We know little of what is planned for a venture deemed to be a “people’s celebration”, though the deadline looms. But now is not the time to axe the creative director’s role. Just because design groups have been appointed to work within the Dome doesn’t mean the job is done – nor is the need merely for effective project management.
The design groups working on the project have been gagged from speaking about their proposals. What few of them realised, when they signed that deal, was that the silence would be two-way, and that they’d be kept as much in the dark by the NMEC as the rest of us. We hear only of confusion and cancelled meetings.
While the stand-off continues between the Dome’s backers and design, this deplorable state of affairs is likely to continue. We can only hope that the current debacle is rooted in clashing personalities rather than a genuine reluctance by the Government and the NMEC to give control over the Dome’s contents to someone with the passion to carry it off. We hope that a replacement for Bayley will be found, for where would the 1951 Festival of Britain have been without vision and guidance of Sir Hugh Casson?
It’s no easy task, and one of the best candidates – Imagination’s Gary Withers – stepped down before Bayley was appointed. But there are people in the creative business who could carry it off with aplomb. Tell us who you would like to see as creative director of the Dome, and we’ll pass on your nominations to the Government and the NMEC.