It’s great that the Millennium Dome will go ahead, even if it won’t be to the original plan. As we hadn’t seen Imagination’s proposals for its innards, we don’t know what compromises the conditions attached to Tony Blair’s backing and his remarkable deal with Michael Heseltine will bring. What we do know is that the project presents a rare opportunity to designers, particularly now that the Greenwich dome is to be permanent and have an educational and technical content.
Millennium Central chief executive Jennie Page is keen for lots of designers to be involved, and the appointment of Stephen Bayley as creative director for the agency – a role Imagination’s Gary Withers sort of had with the dome – suggests that will happen. It’s a chance for design to make a high-profile impact into the next century. But it will have to happen quickly now – as will so many other millennium projects if Britain isn’t to look like one big building site as the countdown starts for the year 2000.
The 1951 Festival of Britain showed what can be done against the odds. It inspired so many people in design, even though most only glimpsed it as children or have found references to it in books published since. Yet reports suggest it was almost a stage set, with even Skylon and the Dome of Discovery cobbled together in no time at all.
You expect more for 580m though, and Millennium Central has its work cut out. Page and Bayley might do well, therefore, to bring in seasoned troupers such as Science Museum head of design Tim Molloy as advisors.
Molloy has made a mark at the London museum, with new facilities such as the Earth Galleries and the Challenge of Materials Gallery, designed by Jasper Jacob Associates and others. The latter combines Tim Hunkin’s fairground-style machines, Chris Wilkinson’s thrilling glass bridge and a variety of other devices to tell a story without labouring it. Learning is fun, whatever your age, and it’s not all gimmickry as some so-called heritage attractions have been.
Molloy plans to take the idea further with the Science Museum’s new Wellcome Wing, the brief for which was issued to five design teams last week. The thrust of this facility will be to explain pure science in a thought-provoking and inspiring way. To achieve this, Molloy hopes to bring in artists and poets to interpret science, as well as designers and other creative people.
If he pulls it off, it will be a great example of multimedia at its best, not just a triumph of electronic gadgetry. Surely, that is how we’d like to be seen as a nation as we move towards the millennium and beyond.