Canvassing thoughts about the Dome tent

At last we have opinions on the Millennium Dome from people not directly connected with the project. But while the general public appear pleased with the result – a poll carried out by London’s Evening Standard found last week that most visitors thought it was great – the response from the design community is generally tepid .

Just about everyone loves the “tent”, designed by Richard Rogers Partnership with Buro Happold. Most also extol the virtues of the newly extended Jubilee Line and the reclamation of the Greenwich peninsular. But the content just won’t do. At least not all of it will do, with different bits appealing to different people. Stephen Bayley apparently had it right in saying that a project this huge, involving so many creative egos and a liberal dose of civil servants, needs a coherent design vision – in short, a creative director.

Much of the blame is being put on the New Millennium Experience Company for not having the nous to make sure creative leadership underpinned the project. And rightly so. What could have been an absolutely stunning experience – and an exemplary bit of design management to inspire UK businesses – has gone off at half cock.

More serious still are revelations that several sponsors hadn’t even signed up at the time of the Dome’s opening – the sort of thing you’d expect Government officials to have sewn up long ago, especially with politicians claiming that not a penny of public money would be used to fund the project. Let’s hope that any shortfall doesn’t affect Dome designers’ fees.

But while the witch hunt continues, visitors to the Dome are, we’re told, having a ball. Shouldn’t the design community therefore just move on, stop whingeing about lost opportunities and look at methods of building better bridges with the public sector. The Government has surely learned from the Dome experience that there are better ways of handling design and maximising its potential. Designers, meanwhile, are well placed to give guidance on what should happen to the Dome tent and the Greenwich peninsular site once the millennium show comes down. How about a positive bid to progress ideas together?

It’s easy to forget that, for all the hype and anguish, the Dome experience is but a temporary affair. The legacy for London is the reclaimed site. Far more memorable in posterity will be the London Eye, which for all the teething problems, will live on as an extraordinary experience, its elegant form adding a new landmark to the London skyline for the duration of its life. What better identity could any capital city aspire to?

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