More vision is needed from the Government

Following Neal Potter’s observations on the procurement of exhibition designers (Letters, DW 7 August), I would like to extend this debate to the many Lottery-funded museum/visitor attractions that are currently in production throughout the UK.

The opportunities are unprecedented for architects and designers to collaborate to create sophisticated and idiosyncratic interpretative centres. We are able to generate buildings that incorporate the complex needs of interpretation, interactivity, media and narrative, often set within filmic or theatrical environments.

Exciting times? Sadly not; as Neal intimated, I also believe there has not been the vision at Government level to provide the infrastructure to support this massive explosion of activity.

Mysteriously appointed executive officers often form the client team. With little experience of commissioning architecture or design, the process can naively start with a seductive “landmark building” that inevitably treats the internal installation as a secondary function, both conceptually and financially – even though it is the popularity of its content that will ultimately determine the survival of the project.

Project managers with the luxury of early appointment and big projects under their belts treat intricacies such as software or graphic production in much the same way as pouring concrete. They always retain total support of the client’s team, and usually consider unfamiliar disciplines with suspicion and disrespect.

Overall control administered by the lottery bodies often focuses on pure architectural issues, business plans and curatorial support. But it is unrepresented in respect of “the new narrative visitor attraction”, with its associated new technology and potential for architectural and design collaboration.

I am sure this chaotic state of affairs has touched many designers in respect of the overall procurement process. We are unfairly tempted by low paid or non-paid feasibility studies with no guarantee of final appointment.

The official European Journal guideline procedure that has been enforced on us, merely empowers a substantial number of aforementioned clients, project managers and Lottery bodies to believe they can manage projects that are beyond the scope of their skills and imagination.

The ultimate test of success will be determined by the ever-pressurised leisure market and, in the event of failure, I hope the commissioning quangos will be accountable so we can determine a more professional approach to the diminishing number of new millennium projects.

Peter Higgins

Land Design Studio

London W4

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