Mandelson's dome's day junket

February 27, 1998

PRIME minister Tony Blair this week offered a sneak preview of some of the things the Millennium Dome will offer visitors.

The Pounds 758 million Greenwich dome will feature "zones of experience" on the themes of education, learning, fun and leisure. The centrepiece will be a 50-metre-tall human body, accompanied by a baby, with images of a million British children stuck on to them.

A body zone will offer "a voyage into the most fascinating and complex object in the world", say officials. A "Spirit Level" dwells on the formative influence of Christianity in the West and other world religions. A "Learning Curve" explores the classroom of the future and in "Dreamscape" Zone visitors can "float along a river of dreams through environments intended to surprise, excite and entertain, setting minds free in a way only dreams can achieve".

There may also be a "Serious Fun Zone", concentrating on sport and entertainment.

The Dome project has had a troubled history. Last month there was the acrimonious departure of its creative director, Stephen Bayley. He said the project "desperately" needed creative input at the highest level but those in charge will not accept it.

Mr Bayley said that Peter Mandelson, minister without portfolio and the "shareholder" in the dome project on behalf of the government, was exercising far too much control: "He should be told to just go away ... I found myself being frustrated at every single turn ... the tendency of the whole thing is towards mediocrity."

Mr Bayley said that he was not against the project as such but its management. "A big problem is that there are these timorous and unimaginative civil servants surrounding the project who are being bullied by the politicians. They are panicky, so worried about Mandelson that they spend most of their time trying to second guess what he wants and does not want. It is an impossible situation and the end result is that quality has been thrown out."

Of the artefacts being planned, Mr Bayley singled out the giant androgynous figure with child for special scorn: "It is unspeakably bad, unspeakably vapid, conceptually, technically and artistically. And all these zones, well yeah OK, but it is all a bit school projecty."

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