Time capsule

Millennium fever has passed, some books use imaginative design to cut clean through the apathy.

The third millennium is now here. The Dome in Greenwich is complete, and the enormous effect of that historical moment on Britain’s collective imagination cannot go unrecorded.

However, now the champagne has been drunk and the new dawn saluted, media attention has dwindled – no doubt the result of a millennium-sized hangover. Keen to keep the commemorative spirit alive, the publishing community has launched a proliferation of books devoted to the new era.

When you consider that the most significant millennium icon in this country is registered under the trade mark of the New Millennium Experience Company, it seems pertinent that the company has seized the opportunity to create a series of licensed publications celebrating the Dome and the millennium.

The NMEC’s publishing partners include Booth-Clibborn Editions, HarperCollins and Dorling Kindersley. The books produced cover a diverse array of Y2K subjects that will appeal to a variety of consumers. “We were very careful to cross over,” says Alex Madina, content editor of the NMEC: “We wanted to encourage different audiences to buy different books.”

Unified only by the millennium event, they range from the commercial and entertaining to the more design-led and philosophical. For the publishers, an association with the NMEC represents an excellent dual-branded opportunity with obvious commercial benefits, since the range will sell in the Dome as well as the high street. The commercial validity behind this burst of millennium publishing is also grounded in historical musings and the desire to record this moment in time.

“In correspondence with Peter Mandelson some time ago, I suggested the idea of producing something of good quality that would represent Britain,” says Edward Booth-Clibborn, founder of Booth-Clibborn Editions. “I felt very strongly that this was an occasion to create something of a high standard.”

Armed with some of the best designers in this country, Booth-Clibborn’s selection of books looks like it will stand the test of time.

The range includes Dome, a circular-shaped photographic handbook of the design and construction of the Dome, created by design consultancy North; Future Present, a selection of Millennium Products chosen by the Design Council and designed by Angus Hyland of Pentagram; and Why2K?, a collage of text and imagery designed by Jonathan Barnbrook. A fourth book, Between Cause and Effect, which explores the impact of a variety of forward-looking projects in Britain, also designed by North, is due out this spring.

So how did the designers make their mark on the millennium? The books selected here are an eclectic mix of genres which manage to celebrate the Dome without reverting to the usual bombastic declarations about the greatness of the site. In addition, they reflect on the achievements of the last century without nostalgic rhetoric or political spin. They are fun, ironic and, where possible, thought-provoking.

Dome, designed by North, appears to have a double intent. With its plastic container and circular shape, it can be read either as a book detailing the Dome’s engineering and architecture or as a fun, flick-through read. “I think it will appeal to architects and designers, but hopefully a nine- to ten-year old will pick it up as it’s quite tactile and self-explanatory. It works on different levels. The shape didn’t directly mimic the Dome, but it echoes its structure,” says Paul Austin, a designer at North.

Alternatively, WHY2K? is a colourful selection of writings by the likes of Eric Hobsbawm, Hanif Kureishi, George Orwell, Claudia Roden, and Virginia Woolf. The collection aims to commemorate last century’s rich cultural heritage, as well as ask how those influences will determine our future thought. Far from being just a nostalgic cultural anthology, Jonathan Barnbrook’s design turns the exercise into a post century pastiche, where type, graphics and other visual references merge with the text, creating a fluid continuum of words and images.

Future Present, on the other hand, confronts a more political agenda. “I was approached by Edward Booth-Clibborn, but the clients were really a combination of the NMEC and the Design Council, which had endorsed the millennium Products,” says Angus Hyland of Pentagram. The book is a selection of 80 Millennium Products that are either “worthy”, eco-friendly or have a story to tell. “It’s a book of inventions, not a design book,” says Hyland. “Unlike Jonathan’s [Barnbook] book, it’s about British inventiveness, not culture. As a consequence, the design had to transform material which wasn’t particularly visual into something rather appealing.”

On a more official note, The Millennium Dome by Elizabeth Wilhide, a coffee table book by HarperCollins Illustrated, aims to be both a glossy product and a guide to the technical wizardry of the Dome’s construction.

“We didn’t want to produce an over-specialised book,” says Richard Atkinson, commissioning editor at HarperCollins Illustrated. “The Dome is an iconic building for millions of people and the book is aimed at all those who are awestruck by its space and architecture. Although the engineering principles are very complex, we wanted to produce an understandable book, not an elitist one.”

For the near future, HarperCollins Illustrated has two photographic books in the pipeline, a British and a worldwide reportage, documenting what people were doing in the precious moments before, during and just after the millennium hour.

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