Although Minister Without Portfolio Peter Mandelson looked as relaxed as ever, the strain was showing on the faces of New Millennium Experience Company staff this week as they unveiled some interior plans for the much-maligned Dome.
Mandelson and NMEC chief executive Jennie Page, backed by board members Michael Grade and Bob Ayling, expressed their support for the interiors submitted by design groups Land, Park Avenue, Eva Jiricna Architects, HP:ICM and Work. Sponsors Manpower and BT were on hand in a bid to lend credibility to the proceedings by promising hard cash.
But confidence in their message was diluted by the chaos surrounding its presentation. The media were kept waiting while NMEC staff searched desperately for press briefing packs and photographs – only to discover they were identical to the packs provided for potential sponsors, which journalists had earlier been refused access to. By this time most hacks had taken a copy of the sponsors’ notes when NMEC staff guarding them declared they had “had enough”.
The press were left to their own devices, and kept trying to enter the conference room until NMEC staff gave up efforts to stop them. It will be interesting to see how they cope with the 12 million visitors they hope to attract to Greenwich.
All of this ensured attention was drawn away from the purpose of the event, the unveiling of the interiors, and focused on areas of confusion, in particular the continuing question of the creative leadership of the project.
The NMEC board, creative advisor Martin Lambie-Nairn and rock event designer Mark Fisher seem unable to agree on a number of creative issues, not least whether the Dome needs a full time creative director or not.
Fisher and the board say no, while Lambie-Nairn says he would like the job, as design director. Dome architect Lord Rogers has publicly criticised the lack of a creative director. Grade, the loudest exponent of the creative minds working on the Dome, says the position “ringleader” coined by Rogers is unnecessary. “I prefer the term conductor. We’re not running a circus,” adds Grade.
Further disagreements seem focused on the Baby Dome concert area. Fisher, an obvious candidate to design events there, says, despite the board’s support of it, he will restrict his involvement to the main internal piazza.
Little of what the NMEC unveiled this week hadn’t already been leaked to the Dome-hungry press. Despite assurances from the organisers, a worryingly large amount of sponsorship (75.5m) is still to be found, and the only potential sponsor which NMEC staff would name was Swatch.
Forty other unnamed potential sponsors were present for a briefing by the Prime Minister before the public launch of the plans. He appeared only on video, a move cynics might interpret as a case of rolling out the big guns to impress those with deep wallets. Those at NMEC will be hoping that now is, as its new slogan suggests, Time to Make a Difference.
The Dome so far:
The Body Zone, designed by HP:ICM, will, as expected, include a giant figure, currently planned to be androgynous, examining medicine and how the body functions. NMEC chief executive Jennie Page says visitors will enter the figure ‘via the back of the waist from a promenade… and exit via the right leg’. They will also be able to look out through the figure’s eyes.
Spirit Level, from Eva Jiricna Architects, will explore the common spiritual beliefs of the UK population. Exhibits will explore society’s beliefs and values.
Licensed to Skill, created by Park Avenue, will investigate the future of careers. Visitors will progress via The Learning Curve to an exhibition on life-long education.
Dreamscape, again by Park Avenue, will aim to provide a break from the stress of the 20th century by moving visitors around in a giant bed, holding 16 people, described as a ‘floater coaster’.
Serious Play, developed by Land Design Studio, takes a look at leisure. Children’s games, stories and sport will be examined in the most technologically advanced section of the Dome.
Living Island, by Work, will use a pleasure beach setting to explore our relationship with the environment. It will include games, rides and tests of strength and skill.
Yet to be unveiled, work from: Muf, Zaha Hadid, Bentheim, Jasper Jacob Associates, Media Projects International and Spectrum.