The New Year has brought another new supremo for the Millennium Dome. With the sudden departure of Peter Mandelson from his Government job as Trade and Industry Secretary and Dome secretary at the end of 1998, the big question is how will the 750m Greenwich project fare under its new boss, Lord Falconer?
Of Mandelson’s tenure, Jenny Page, chief executive of the New Millennium Experience Company, says: “During his 18 months as NMEC shareholder, Peter Mandelson devoted a great deal of time and effort to the Dome, for which everyone here at the NMEC is extremely grateful.”
Officially, of course, design input and decision-making by the single Government shareholder in the NMEC was non-existent. Yet in reality, Mandelson’s 18-month tenure as Dome boss was controversial within the design world, the most notable wrangle being when Stephen Bayley, the former creative director, acrimoniously quit his post, claiming Mandelson had scant understanding of the artistic world.
Given the timing of the new appointment, however, just 12 months prior to completion date, many of those involved with the design of the Greenwich project feel it is unlikely that the change at the top will have much impact.
“Most of the Millennium Zones have now been agreed in terms of content, so whoever takes over would probably just want to see that everything progresses on time – to review the content would not be sensible right now,” says Charlotte Callaghan, practice manager for Jasper Jacob Associates, which is responsible for design of the exhibition area inside the Spirit Zone.
Callaghan agrees that the Spirit Zone design has been “a contentious area”. She adds, “It was given approval by the Litmus Group before Christmas. I can’t see any problems with it at all.”
Design group Media Projects International is working on audio visual technology throughout the Dome. Daniel Letts, senior producer on the Dome team at MPI, says: “I don’t think the new appointment will make any difference at all. As a company, we always report to individual department directors and to Clare Sampson [production director] and Jenny Page.”
As for the completion schedule, Letts says: “All I can say is it’s extremely tight – and it’s even tighter now. But we will be up and running for the opening day on 1 January next year.”
Nigel Lloyd Jones, chairman and creative director of HP:ICM, designer of the Body and Local zones adds: “We were sorry to see a great spokesman for the Dome like Peter Mandelson departing, but it was obvious they’d have to appoint someone with sufficient courage to take on the role.”
Of Lord Falconer’s appointment, he says: “Obviously, they’ve found the right man. But the reality of the situation is, the project is way down the line and both designs for the two zones are now approved and being constructed. As far as the designers are concerned, I don’t think his appointment will have any impact at all.”
Lloyd Jones confirms the structure for the Body Zone is now well under way. “We’ve ordered the steel – 50 tonnes of steel will be used – as well as the lifts and escalators. The fundamental foundations on which the structure will sit are being dug up and laid. We’re in a similar situation on the Local Zone; the base foundations are being laid in place.”
But if construction of the zones is under way, there is still the sponsorship issue: with the deadline just one year away, a number of sponsorships for individual zones are still to be confirmed (see box opposite).
Of the Spirit Zone sponsorship, for instance, designer Jasper Jacob says: “We don’t really know any details of who the sponsors might be – that’s being kept by the NMEC very close to its chest. I don’t think it’s our problem – we’re the design consultant; our client is raising the money.
“I don’t see any real difference between this kind of project and other kinds of project that require finance. Wherever the money comes from, there’s always concern about how it will be raised,” says Jacob.
Many people believe the question mark hanging over the completion of the Jubilee Line extension to the London Underground is the toughest hurdle to be overcome when considering the success of the Dome project. But the general feeling in the design industry is that Mandelson’s departure will have virtually no effect or impact on the overall Millennium project.
A designer who declined to be identified pointed out that, in a situation like this, having a new person at the top “can give a project a shake-up and added momentum”. He added: “The Dome itself is going to be what it’s going to be. I don’t think changing the ministerial position either way will have much impact on the outcome.”
Indeed, such comments were echoed by a number of key industry sources. As one designer says: “It’s very much business as usual – with or without Mandelson.”
Sponsorships for the remaining zones:
Body Zone – Boots the Chemists
Communicate Zone – BT
Global Zone – BA and BAA
Learn Zone – Tesco
Mind Zone – GEC and British Aerospace
National Identity – Marks & Spencer
Work – Manpower
Baby Dome – Sky
Our Town Story – McDonald’s
Individual zones and their designers:
Body Zone – HP:ICM with Branson Coates
Communicate Zone – Imagination
Global Zone – Park Avenue
Learn Zone – Work
Local Zone – HP:ICM
Mind Zone – Zaha Hadid
Mobility Zone – Imagination
Living Island Zone – Work
National Identity Zone – Spectrum with Lorenzo Apicella
Play Zone – Land Design
Rest Zone – Park Avenue
Spirit Zone – Eva Jiricna Architects with Jasper Jacob Associates
Transaction Zone – Spectrum
Work Zone – Work
Baby Zone – Edwin Shirley Staging
Muf Architects and Bentheim remain under contract to NMEC