‘Confused’ exhibition briefs invite banality

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What the recent controversy over the British Pavilion in Expo’98 failed to touch on, and what the Argentina Pavilion at Expo’98 illustrated so beautifully is: it takes two to Tango. By this I mean a designer is only as good as his client’s brief allows. The banality started for Expo’98, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued the most amateurish and confused brief I have ever seen.

How any designer was expected to rise above that confusion I will never know. Similarly, the New Millennium Experience Company issued a brief last summer which was shaky and uninformed and an insult to any commercial designer regarding copyright.

My company turned down the opportunity to pitch for the British Pavilion at Expo’98 (although we did make a failed bid for the British Pavilion at Expo’2000) because we felt the brief was so poor. We found it necessary to withdraw from the European Union Pavilion at Expo’98 because I believed the client failed to understand the exposition medium it was involved in. We turned down the opportunity to pitch for two areas of the Millennium Dome because of the brief believing that a competitive pitch is not the place to resolve such issues. Believe me, nobody was more sorry to do this than me – this is my industry and these events are unique.

The Italians and the Germans showed, at Expo’98, that it is still possible to create informative, entertaining and stylish national pavilions. Until our exhibition design industry (and perhaps other design sectors?) can make a stand against banality and misuse of the medium, then clients such as the FCO and the NMEC and their designers will continue to attract abusive letters in a variety of publications.

Lynda Relph-Knight is right when she uses the Natural History Museum as a beacon (Comment, DW 24 July). It seems to be one of the few clients which understands not only its specialist subject matter, how to communicate, fundraising, and the role of marketing, but also the role of the designer in the creative process. It now has a diverse set of quality galleries to show for its efforts over the last decade.

If a tiny company like mine can make a stand then surely the big guys can do it too. Or is it that the financial bottom line is the only true motivation?

Neal Potter

Visiting Professor, Hull School of Architecture


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